Athens officers' final moments
Jury hears 911, dispatch
recordings in validation trial
By Holly Hollman
email@example.com · 340-2445
ATHENS — "10-23." Then static.
"10-4." More static.
Those last known words of Athens police officer Tony Mims and Sgt. Larry Russell reverberated through a packed Limestone County courtroom Monday.
The sound of static that followed lingered in the audience's ears. It signaled the end of the officers' watch.
On Jan. 2, 2004, Mims uttered the police code 10-23, which meant "arrived at scene," just before being ambushed at a Horton Street home.
Russell received a radio transmission to assist Mims and replied with the code 10-4, which meant "acknowledgment."
The two had responded to multiple 911 calls made by defendant Farron Barksdale. On the 911 recording, Barksdale demanded that someone "direct me to the FBI." He refused to say why.
During a validation trial for Barksdale, jurors heard the 911 and dispatch recordings that captured the officers' last moments. Barksdale pleaded guilty to five counts of capital murder to avoid the death penalty, but state law requires that a jury confirm that the state has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt when there is a capital murder plea.
Some of the officers' family members fled the courtroom in tears as the voices of dispatcher Vickie Fuqua and Lt. Floyd Johnson frantically repeated, "103, 111, status" and "103, 111, check your mike."
111 was Mims' identification number; 103 was Russell's.
The two officers could not answer.
From a window inside the home, Barksdale shot 10 rounds from a 7.62 mm assault rifle and killed Mims as he pulled into the driveway. His car rolled into a fence at the side of the house. A bullet struck his microphone.
Barksdale then reloaded and shot Russell as he opened his car door. Russell fell from his car.
Neighbors testified that at first, they thought they heard fireworks or someone shooting squirrels. They did not initially see Mims' patrol car.
After the first shots, Bryan Street resident Donald Thomas saw Barksdale go into his house with a gun, and then saw Russell arrive.
"I saw glass breaking off his windshield and thought, 'This guy's shooting patrol cars,' " Thomas said.
Pryor Street resident Marie Nave called 911 and reported an officer on the ground.
Pryor Street resident Faye Tribble was driving down Horton Street to Athens-Limestone Hospital when she saw an officer on the ground and stopped to talk to a man she later learned was Barksdale. She could not understand him and drove to the hospital to report an officer was hurt.
During the commotion, Barksdale fired shots into the air and at the ground near Russell.
Ambulance driver Mark Huseth, now a fireman, arrived from the hospital and saw Barksdale pointing a rifle at him. On the radio, someone repeated the phrase, "Officer down!"
Barksdale threw his rifle to the ground. Pryor Street resident John Hopkins ordered Barksdale to lay on his belly with his arms out.
Hopkins said Barksdale told him that he "was going to keep killing officers as long as they're coming."
Thomas kicked the rifle away and told Hopkins "If he moves, stomp his head in."
Thomas ran to Russell, who was breathing but losing blood, and tried to pull him upright. Huseth applied bandages and grabbed Russell's gun for protection in case Barksdale started shooting again. Huseth then saw Mims' car and yelled at his partner. Mims had no pulse.
"We got Larry in the ambulance, and I drove in reverse all the way to the hospital," Huseth said.
Russell did not survive.
Officer Doug Duren handcuffed Barksdale and read him his rights. Duren testified that Barksdale was calm and told him, "I shot them myself" and that he "threw the gun down by the cop."
In her closing statement, District Attorney Kristi Valls told the jury that yes, Mims and Russell were officers, but they were men first, men who were husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.
"This is the family's last step," she said. "You need to find him guilty so they can put Farron Barksdale away, so they never have to think of him again, and they can focus on Larry and Tony. End this nightmare for them."
A jury of 11 men and one woman did just that in 15 minutes.
Circuit Court Judge Bob Baker sentenced Barksdale to life without parole on each capital murder count. He also gave him two 10-year sentences plus a $10,000 fine for two additional charges of shooting into an occupied vehicle.
Barksdale's attorney Robert Tuten asked Baker to recommend that Barksdale receive psychiatric care in prison. Baker said the Department of Corrections will determine that treatment.
The defense has said Barksdale is a paranoid schizophrenic who abused drugs but that the problem was proving whether he knew right from wrong.
Barksdale's brother, Phillip, testified that he drove his brother to a Huntsville pawn shop on Dec. 12, 2003, but said he did not know Barksdale planned to shoot officers. To buy the rifle, Barksdale lied on his background check where it asked whether he had been involuntarily committed.
Limestone County Sheriff's Department Chief Investigator Stanley McNatt, whose department investigated the case, said he found a cardboard box in the garage that Barksdale had used for target practice prior to the shootings.
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