James Barrow, a career criminal, did something in February 2016 that an investigator described as "weird and strange": He turned himself in to police and confessed to killing three people in 2009.
In interrogation interviews that were video recorded, Barrow, in an emotionless voice, provided details that only the killer would know. And he said he was surrendering out of fear that he was being stalked and didn't want to end up like his victims.
On Monday, a Philadelphia jury convicted Barrow, 32, for the first-degree murder of his first victim, Kamara Joseph, 30. Brushing aside a defense motion to delay sentencing until appeals are filed, Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd imposed the state mandatory term of life in prison without parole, followed by 28½ to 57 years for burglary, robbery, and related counts.
"This is one more instance of heinous gun violence … carried out in a kind of calm and deliberate fashion that should frighten anyone," Byrd said.
But the sentence and stern words from the judge were not enough for the families of Jonathan Pitts, 21, and Nakeisha Finks, 20, the other victims whom Barrow confessed to killing. He has yet to be charged in those slayings, although during the trial Assistant District Attorney Danielle Burkavage told the jury that Barrow killed all three.
"Just like the defendant told you," she said in her closing argument Friday, "you should believe it. You should believe all of it."
Burkavage told the panel that for strategic reasons, her office may not immediately charge a suspect. But she shed no light on that strategy after leaving the courtroom Monday. "Like I've indicated before, it's under investigation, and when the decision is ready to be made, it will be made," she said.
The killings of Pitts and Finks, a couple slain together, present a complication that did not exist in Joseph's case: The District Attorney's Office in 2013 had tried someone else in the double slayings, and the jury found the accused man, Nafis Pinkney, not guilty. Last year the city settled a malicious-prosecution lawsuit brought by Pinkney for $750,000.
Joseph's mother, Brenda, embraced the mothers of Pitts and Finks after leaving the courtroom. "This is for all of us," Joseph said, as tears streamed down the mothers' faces. Although they were happy for Joseph, the other mothers said they expected the District Attorney's Office to prosecute Barrow for their children's slayings.
"We're still looking for justice. So I'm looking for another trial for him. We got justice for her son, Kamara Joseph, but I'm looking for justice for my daughter, Nakeisha Finks," said Tamika Watson.
Of being in the courtroom with Barrow, she said, "You feel lifeless. It's just hard to sit in a courtroom with someone that you know murdered your child. It's just unspeakable."
"I want justice for my son," said a tearful Gwen Pitts, Jonathan's mother. "I was hoping [Barrow] got three life sentences. That's what he confessed to."
Barrow told investigators that he broke into Joseph's Elmwood home on Aug. 24, 2009. Barrow said he woke him, tried to strangle him with a sneaker shoestring, then shot him in the back of the head to quiet him. Joseph is survived by a daughter, now 11 years old, relatives said.
Barrow said he broke into Pitts' West Philadelphia home five days later. After getting the better of Pitts in a fistfight, he ordered him to use duct tape to bind the wrists and ankles of his girlfriend, Finks. He also ordered Pitts to put tape over her eyes and mouth. After ordering Pitts to lie on his stomach, Barrow said, he bound Pitts likewise and then shot them both in the head.
He was motivated to break into the homes of Joseph and Pitts after hearing on the street that they had drug money, he said in his confession interviews.
His lawyer, Michael Coard, said he was not permitted to tell the jury all of the facts because of procedural decisions made by the judge. An appeal is planned, he said.