Man accused of murdering uncle pulls out of plea deal before sentencing

Man accused of murdering uncle, pulls out of plea deal before sentencing.

YAKIMA, Wash.- In July of last year, police said 68-year-old Basil Emmons was strangled with a vacuum cord and stabbed multiple times in the neck.

Police later identified Justin Michael Barnett, Emmons nephew, as the murderer.

KIMA talked to Barnett’s mother after it happened and she said she only left the house for about an hour.

"When we left he was laying in the bed, when we got back I opened the front door and there he is laying in the floor wrapped in his blankets," Betty Emmons said.

When she got home, she thought he had fallen down but realized what happened when she saw the knife.

"That's when I screamed and I... I lost it... I did ... I lost it ... because one minute you're there and the next minute you're gone,” she said.

This isn't the first time Barnett has been sentenced for a violent crime.

In 1999, he was initially charged with murdering one of his close friends.

However, it was later downgraded to manslaughter and he served about ten years for it.

While the violent past is clear, Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic said he can't get a life sentence, because of Washington State's three strike rule.

“If you have three convictions of what is known as a three strikes or most serious offenses as defined by statute, then you can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole,” Brusic said.

The three strikes rule has been around since 1993 and it would take another serious conviction.

Based on his criminal history and the charges he's facing, Brusic said the average time behind bars he is likely to face is anywhere between 20 to 30 years.

While Barnett backed out of pleading guilty just moments before his sentencing, Brusic said it's not uncommon and it's the defendants right to do so.

“At any time before the court accepts that plea, the defendant can back out of that agreement,” he said.

Barnett was originally scheduled to stand trial next month, but because he pulled out of his plea, it's expected to be pushed back to sometime in June.

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