Judge to Reconsider Compassionate Release Request for Convicted Murderer, Sex Abuser

A DC Superior Court judge granted a motion to reconsider a compassionate release request from a defendant serving time for a woman’s murder.

Joe Barber Jr. is serving a 20-year-to-life sentence for the murder of Rachel Minor, who was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death on New Year’s Day in 1984. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) cold case investigators linked Barber to the murder in 2013. At the time, it had been less than a decade since he was released from prison after serving 19 years for attempted robbery as well as the rape of a 10-year-old girl.

Barber was convicted of first-degree murder while armed in 2016. He is now in his sixties and recovering from two recent strokes.  

Last March, Judge James Crowell denied a petition for compassionate release made by defense attorney Deborah Persico on the grounds that the defendant had not adequately proven that there is at least a 50 percent chance that he is no longer dangerous. 

However, during the Oct. 20 hearing, Judge Crowell said he would now consider the defendant’s current health status as an indication of whether Barber is a danger to the community now.

According to new DC legislation, the severity of the crime is no longer relevant for motions of compassionate release.

“The law has changed dramatically in my view as to the statutory factors as well as the defendant’s physical condition, which doesn’t control but certainly informs the dangerousness and non-dangerousness burden the defense must prove,” Judge Crowell said.

Judge Crowell said he had previously applied the decision in U.S. v. Bailey, which dealt with a similar release issue involving a murder defendant with health problems. In that case, the DC Court of Appeals ruled that the defendant’s impairment alone cannot amount to proof that the defendant is no longer dangerous.

However, in her motion and during the hearing, Perisco took issue with citing Bailey’s case as a precedent when discussing release because her client has a much more extreme physical disability.

“Mr. Barber has far more compelling circumstances than Mr. Bailey even had,” Persico said. “Mr. Barber’s disabilities are more significant than those that Mr. Bailey has.” 

Barber now lives with physical disabilities due to his strokes. He also has multiple other significant health issues that interfere with his daily activities and ability to do basic tasks for himself such as eating or moving. 

“Your Honor said in your August order granting compassionate release that Mr. Bailey’s physical impairments did not alone demonstrate that he was no longer a danger,” Persico said. “In that respect, our position would be that Mr. Barber’s disabilities, given what [a doctor] has said about those disabilities, indicates that that disability alone demonstrates he is no longer a danger.”

The trial lawyer, who prosecuted Bailey in 2015,  expressed frustration with the notion that the severity of the crime was no longer relevant in defining the dangerousness of the defendant, and that the only relevant factor is the severity of his current medical condition.

“The court doesn’t have the crystal ball, but that cuts both ways. He may never pose a danger to society again. That’s the risk we run with every defendant that is incarcerated,” she said. “But the problem here is that the risk to that of society is too great. If he chooses never to commit another crime, he’s serving out just punishment for a crime he’s already committed. He’s sick now, he gets to get out—it’s unfair to the victims and the government which has worked very hard to arrest and convict him of his crimes.”

Judge Crowell also raised the issue of jurisdiction because Barber’s case is pending an appeal. During the hearing, Crowell said he would be able to make a ruling on the reconsideration motion in light of the pending appeal.

Judge Crowell granted Persico’s June 4 motion to reconsider the compassionate release request. Parties are waiting on the result of the appeal on Barber’s initial motion for compassionate release to schedule a further hearing.

If released, Barber would stay with his wife in Virginia. The couple was married in 2008 after Barber served time for his first conviction.