ROANOKE TIMES Copyright (c) 1997, Roanoke Times DATE: Wednesday, February 5, 1997 TAG: 9702050092 SECTION: VIRGINIA PAGE: C-1 EDITION: METRO SOURCE: LAURENCE HAMMACK STAFF WRITER
A man accused of firebombing his ex-girlfriend's apartment and later gunning her down on a Roanoke street will be prosecuted in North Carolina - where he could face a federal death sentence for those and related crimes.
Aquilia Marcivicci Barnette, 23, was indicted Tuesday by a grand jury in U.S. District Court in Charlotte on charges of killing Robin Williams last June 22 outside her mother's home on Loudon Avenue Northwest.
Barnette also is accused of killing a man in Charlotte hours earlier and stealing his car so he could drive to Roanoke and kill Williams.
By taking the unusual step of combining two killings in separate states into one case, U.S. prosecutors may be able to do what Roanoke Commonwealth's Attorney Donald Caldwell could not - seek a death sentence.
"As crazy as it may seem in this case, we could not bring a capital murder charge under Virginia law," Caldwell said.
Caldwell has agreed to withdraw murder and arson charges against Barnette in Roanoke so he can face similar charges in Charlotte, where Barnette is accused of killing Donald Lee Allen during a carjacking.
An 11-count indictment returned Tuesday also charges Barnette with violating the federal Violence Against Women Act, which makes crossing a state line to assault a spouse or domestic partner a federal offense.
Robert Conrad, the chief criminal assistant U.S. attorney in Charlotte, declined to say whether prosecutors will seek the death sentence for Barnette. To do so, they would have to get approval from the U.S. Justice Department.
Members of Williams' family have agreed to the federal prosecution, which Caldwell said will expedite a case that would have taken months to prosecute in separate states.
"I think the major advantage to this is that the entire story can be told in one courtroom," he said. "This is as cold and brutal a set of circumstances as I've seen in the time that I've been a prosecutor."
This is what happened, according to the indictment and police accounts:
On the morning of April 30, Williams was awakened by smoke in her Keswick Street Northeast apartment. When she and a friend looked outside, they saw that her friend's car windows had been smashed and the car set on fire.
They told police they saw a man - whom they identified as Barnette - throw an object through the apartment window. It was a firebomb, and it ignited the couch. As fire spread through the apartment, Williams escaped by climbing out of a window. She suffered cuts and burns.
Williams, 23, went to stay with her mother. But she continued to live in fear, friends and relatives have said, because Barnette remained at large on an arson charge.
Barnette went back to Charlotte, where he lived at the time. He is accused of buying a shotgun from a pawn shop May21. Barnette, who was prohibited from owning a gun as a convicted felon, gave a false name to the shop owner and later sawed the barrel off the gun, another violation of federal law, according to the indictment.
Early on the morning of June 22, Donald Allen was waiting for a traffic light to turn green near Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.
A man with a shotgun walked up to Allen's Honda Prelude, ordered him out and shot him to death. That man was Barnette, the indictment alleges.
As Allen lay dead in a ditch, authorities say, Barnette took his car and drove to Roanoke.
Several hours later, about 7 a.m., the lock on the back door of the house where Williams was staying was blown off by a shotgun blast.
Williams fled the house, but Barnette chased her down and caught her near Ninth Street and Loudon Avenue. Barnette is accused of shooting Williams in the chest as he tried to force her back into the home.
Authorities say Barnette fled to Charlotte a second time, where he was arrested June 25 at his mother's home. He has been held since then in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Jail.
While authorities have not commented on a motive, friends and relatives have said Barnette was angry at Williams for breaking off their relationship. When Williams refused to talk to Barnette about patching things up, he told her to "watch out," police have said.
After her apartment was firebombed, Williams found love letters she previously had written to Barnette taped to her car. Barnette had scrawled messages on the letters, including one that said, "It didn't have to be this way," Williams' mother has said.
The fact that Barnette avoided arrest for nearly two months after Williams' apartment was set on fire raised questions about communications between the Charlotte and Roanoke police. Roanoke police said that immediately after the firebombing, they sent several Teletypes to Charlotte police alerting them to be on the lookout for Barnette.
Charlotte police said they did not receive all of the Teletypes. And when they later checked an address where Barnette was believed to be, Charlotte police were unable to find it and mistakenly told Roanoke authorities that it was invalid.
Barnette's indictments mark the second time that the Violence Against Women Act has been used in Western Virginia since the federal law was passed in 1994.
While some have argued that the act is unconstitutional when used in civil cases - a federal judge in Roanoke dismissed a lawsuit that cited the law in accusing two Virginia Tech football players of rape - it has been used successfully in criminal prosecutions.
The first person prosecuted under the law was a West Virginia man who beat his wife and threw her in the trunk of his car. He drove around two states drunk while she lapsed into a permanent coma. He was sentenced to life in prison.
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