The jury found Barber not guilty of second-degree assault, and even though the jury had the option of convicting him of fourth-degree misdemeanor assault, it unanimously rejected that as well.
Former Washington State football player Robert Barber was found not guilty of second-degree felony assault in a trial at the Whitman County Courthouse on Tuesday.
“Robert and I are just so relieved, but really exhausted, too,” Barber’s attorney, Stephen Graham, said in a text message to The Seattle Times after the verdict was delivered. “We look forward to spending some low-key time with our families.”
A jury of seven men and six women ruled in Barber’s favor after a two-day trial in which they heard testimony from Barber, the alleged victim and several key witnesses. The jury found Barber not guilty of second-degree assault, and even though the jury had the option of convicting him of fourth-degree misdemeanor assault, it unanimously rejected that as well, Graham said.
The incident in question was a large fight that broke out July 22 at a house just off the WSU campus in Pullman. One WSU student was left with a broken jaw, and another — the man Barber was accused of injuring — sustained a concussion and injured wrist.
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The fallout from the fight was extensive. The police investigation took four months and involved interviews with more than 60 witnesses. Barber was accused of injuring the other WSU student and initially expelled from school by the school’s student-conduct board. He spent most of the fall — his final semester of college — fighting his expulsion.
Barber ultimately prevailed and was allowed to graduate. But in February, when the Whitman County Prosecutor concluded its investigation into the case, he was charged with second-degree felony assault and accused of causing the alleged victim’s concussion.
Prior to the trial, Graham said Barber turned down a plea bargain that would have reduced the charge against him to misdemeanor assault.
“I was adamant that he see this through all the way because we didn’t feel he was guilty of anything and we didn’t want him to plead to something we felt he didn’t do,” Graham said. “There was more to the story than a nine-second video, and we were confident that if the jurors heard all that had happened and all that was going through his mind, they would unanimously find in his favor.”
At the trial this week, Whitman County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Dan LeBeau had the alleged victim testify, along with Nicholas Bowe, a WSU student whose Snapchat video of the fight was used by investigators to identify possible suspects; and witness Sasha Hamirani, a WSU student who helped to drive the alleged victim to a hospital after the fight.
According to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, during Day 1 of the trial,on Monday the alleged victim said he was highly intoxicated during the party and acknowledged that he had a blood-alcohol level of .32. He had also snorted caffeine pills, and said he was unable to recall some parts of what happened that night. Upon questioning by Graham, the alleged victim conceded it was possible that his memory loss could have been due to either alcohol or the alleged assault.
Graham called WSU football player Kingston Fernandez and walk-on Dylan Axelson as witnesses. Both men, along with at least two dozen of their teammates, were at the party last July.
Graham also called a witness named Stella Anderson. According to Graham, Anderson, who knew Barber from working at the WSU student-recreation center, testified that the victim “started the fighting and the panic by physically trying to push multiple people out of the house.”
Graham also had Barber take the stand in his defense and believes Barber’s testimony was the difference-maker.
“I think what swung it our way was Robert’s testimony,” Graham said. “He just explained the fear and panic he faced, how he feared for the others in the crowd, particularly the young women, and he took out the instigator to prevent a stampede of the crowd.”
LeBeau said the crux of the prosecution’s argument was that, based on video evidence, the second of the two punches Barber threw against the alleged victim constituted unnecessary force.
However, “there’s our legal system at work,” LeBeau said. “The state and I felt we had enough evidence to bring the trial to proceed, the judge agreed at the motion to dismiss hearing that there was enough evidence for a jury to make a decision. They made their decision. I respect the process and respect their time. It’s part of the process.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Barber thanked his family, his coaches and teammates, the Samoan community and his legal team. His mother traveled from Samoa to be at his trial this week.
“I’m extremely happy for Barber and his family as far as the result. I just wish they hadn’t had to go through it,” WSU football coach Mike Leach said. “I think, legally, justice was served. But now, the tragedy is that this has damaged Robert’s reputation unjustifiably. There’s all the (news) articles and the incredible anxiety and inconvenience to his family. But it appears that the jury saw the facts the same way I did when this unfortunate event came across my desk.”
The not-guilty verdict could resuscitate Barber’s hope to sign with an NFL team. The nose tackle was poised to sign a free-agent contract with the Carolina Panthers after the NFL draft last month, but the Panthers pulled his offer when they found out about the assault charge and the impending trial.
“I was kinda sad because I signed the contract that day, and later the next morning it (was withdrawn),” Barber said. “But it is what it is. I think they were right: I had to finish this. Now, I’m done with this and ready to move on with my life.”
“We’re all happy it’s behind us. We’re now focused on getting Rob an opportunity to pursue his football career,” Barber’s agent, Anthony Bendana, said in a text message. “He’s in tremendous shape and looks forward to competing.”
Former WSU quarterback Jack Thompson, who was one of Barber’s staunchest supporters throughout the ordeal that began in July, said he was delighted for Barber.
“This has been a huge learning experience for him and, frankly, for the young guys at WSU,” Thompson said in a phone interview. “I thought he was innocent from Day 1. But one of the things I’d mentioned to him months ago, was ‘actions have consequences.’ You go back to that day, maybe the next time, you don’t even go to the party. He’s a better man for it. He’s a good person, and I hope that Carolina will look into it deeper and see the kind of guy he really is.”