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Monday, April 21, 2014

Michael Reed convicted of first-degree murder

BY RON SYLVESTER
The Wichita Eagle

Michael Reed will face life in prison, after a jury found him guilty Thursday morning of first-degree felony murder.

By going to trial, Reed, 29, stands to serve more prison time than his younger brother, who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder. Robert Reed, who admitted shooting Vincent Barnes two years ago, is serving 19 years.

Prosecutors Lance Gillett and C.J. Rieg charged Michael Reed under a law that provides for a murder conviction of someone who aids in a deadly crime.

Jurors said they followed that law regarding felony murder, although it challenged their preconception of what first-degree murder was supposed to be.

"It was the hardest decision I ever had to make," said one woman on the jury. Jurors asked their names not be published.

Four of the jurors wiped tears away from their eyes as bailiff Katie Harris read the verdict.

The jury's verdict reflected the state's contentions that Michael Reed started an argument while trying to find someone to sell him cocaine, but which ended in Barnes' death at his west Wichita apartment on May 15, 2009.

Barnes, 33, had angered Michael and Robert Reed by hanging up on them and refusing to answer phone calls, witnesses said.

Robert Reed was set to be married the following day, when he went with his older brother and friend Jeremy Trout to celebrate. After drinking at a bar, witnesses said Michael Reed began calling people looking for drugs.

Alexia Barnes lived in the same apartment complex near Central and West. She had been visiting her brother, witnessed his shooting and called 911 to summon help.

Bill Barnes, Vincent's father, believes his son hung up on Michael Reed in an attempt to escape a life of drugs.

Vincent Barnes had over come learning disabilities and earned his high school diploma. He'd been studying avionics at Wichita Area Technical College in the months before he died. Just weeks before the shooting, Bill Barnes said his son had promised he was going stay clean.

"Vinnie was no angel by any means," Bill Barnes said. "But he never hurt anybody. He never went looking for a fight."

Bill Barnes said his son had eaten dinner with his parents on the last evening of his life. Bill Barnes remembered Vincent saying he was going to clean his apartment in anticipation of a visit from his 9-year-old daughter that next day.

Michael Reed's family cried so loudly after the verdict was read that Sedgwick County Judge Jeff Syrios threatened to clear the courtroom to restore order.

Syrios set sentencing for Oct. 6.

As she was leaving the courtroom, a women with Reed's family leaned over to the Barnes' family and tearfully said, "We're sorry about Vinnie."

Defense attorney Lee McMaster had argued that Michael Reed shouldn't be held responsible for the crime his brother committed.

"I think justice was done," Bill Barnes said. "There's no question that Michael Reed was a catalyst for all this. But look at all the families and all the people it has affected. I can't imagine what their family must be going through. That Jeremy kid just got dragged into it all."

Jeremy Trout pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and faces sentencing later this month.

"But if these guys were willing to go out and hurt someone," Bill Barnes added, "then maybe it's good they're off the street, so they won't hurt anyone else."

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