The case of Velma Barfield was the notorious case of a serial killer, who confessed of the murder of six persons and was sentenced to the death. After numerous appeals and request for clemency that also failed, Velma Barfield was executed becoming the first female, who obtained the lethal injection in North Carolina. At the same time, this case reveals the complexity of the trial of serial killers because such cases attract the mass media and public. As a result, the pressure of the public opinion on parties involved in the trial increases enormously that increases the risk of taking the wrong decision, just because it contradicts to the public opinion shaped by mass media’s hysteria. Therefore, both the prosecution and the defense should develop their strategies taking into consideration the effect the trial will have on the mass media and the public, on the one hand, and they should come prepared to resist to the enormous pressure from the part of the public, on the other. in this regard, the judge should manifest the high professional level to prevent the impact of the mass media and the public on the trial and the parties involved, especially jurors. In this regard, the case of Velma Barfield was basically tried objectively and accurately, within the legal framework and with respect to rights of the defendant and all the parties involved in the trial.
Velma Barfield was a serial female murderer sentenced to the death penalty but appealed to the Court of Appeals of North Carolina seeking the replacement of the death penalty by the life sentence. However, the Court declined her appeal and remained the ruling unchanged (Barfield, 139). The decision of the Court of Appeals was the reasonable outcome since from the beginning Velma Barfield had little chances of being pleaded not guilty and escape the severe punishment for the murder of several people, six to be precise. The Court of Appeals proved that the decision of the court in her case was not unconstitutional and there were no rights or legal procedures being violated by the court in the course of the trial. As a result, the sentence of the court remained unchanged and Velma Barfield was eventually executed taking the lethal injection.
On analyzing the case of Velma Barfield, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that she was the serial murderer, who committed her crimes systematically. She murdered her husband and her family members as well as other relatives. At the same time, in the course of the trial, the court found out that she was inclined to fraudulent activities as she manipulated with checks of her husband and people whom she had been working for. Moreover, such criminal activities became a sufficient reason for her to commit her murders. In such a way, she committed her crimes reasonably and planning her actions carefully. In addition, she worked as a nurse that meant that she had the professional background that allowed her choosing efficient tools to commit her murders without the minimal risk of suspicions from the part of the public or family members. For instance, she used arson to kill her first husband, and later she used arsenic-based poison to kill some of her other victims, and she also used other tools that were efficient and did not evoke strong suspicions (Druckenmiller, 134).
In such a situation, the only way for the defense to escape the capital punishment for the defendant was to prove that she was mentally ill and, therefore, could not be fully responsible for her actions. In this regard, the lawyer of Velma Barfield Jimmie Little failed to draw sufficient evidence of her mental health problems, although his assistant, Burr, insisted on the importance of psychiatric evidence that would prove that Velma Barfield was mentally ill.
However, the defendant’s attorney failed to use the opportunity to prove that the defendant was mentally ill and, thus, to help her to escape the severe punishment for her crime. Instead, Jimmie Little conducted the case presenting his defendant as the victim of circumstances, whose life was unbearable and who needed the assistance of caring and supportive people but instead she got an abusive husband and confronted the wall of miscomprehension from the part of other people, including her relatives and family members.
In stark contrast, the prosecution stood on the ground that Velma Barfield was a cold-blooded serial murderer, who slaughtered her victims slowly and systematically. In this regard, the prosecution had a solid ground since Velma Barfield had killed six persons, at least she was confessed to six murderers. She killed them in a different way, although her favorite tool was arsenic-based poison, which she added into drinks or food of her victims. In fact, the major goal of the prosecution was to uncover the evil nature of Velma Barfield and present her as a monster slaughtering innocent people for virtually nothing. For instance, the prosecution referred to the case of the murder of Velma’s first husband as the case of the extreme cruelty, although, as the matter of fact, Velma was suffering from alcoholism and regular abuse from the part of her husband (Schmidt, 14). In this regard, the defense could use the full potential of the victimization of Velma and to present the murder of her first husband as a desperate step of a victimized, abused wife, who had no other way to set herself free from boundaries of her family life in face of the abusive husband.
In such a situation, the judge could not ignore the fact that Velma acted rationally since she did not just want to kill her victims out of sheer interest or desire of killing. Instead, she did it purposefully to obtain some benefits. For instance, she killed her husband because she was afraid he would uncover her check frauds. In such a way, the judge took into consideration the fact that Velma Barfield’s actions were purposeful and carefully planned. In such a situation, the judge should take careful decisions to avoid the subjective decision being taken by the jury.
On the other hand, the judge could not ignore the fact that Velma Barfield was a religious woman and it is absolutely abnormal for her as a Christian to murder people, including her closest relatives and family members (Vronsky, 199). In such a context, the judge should consider the possibility of the detailed psychiatric examination of the criminal. Therefore, the judge could not ignore factors that influenced the behavior of the criminal. In this regard, the judge should take into consideration the background and the past of Velma Barfield and help jurors to understand that the past of the criminal could have had a considerable impact on her actions but some of her actions, such as murders, contradicted to the religious beliefs of the criminal. Hence, jurors and the judge were likely to consider the extent, to which Velma was sincere in her faith and religiosity (Bledsoe, 182). Therefore, the judge had a hard work to do and to take very complicated decisions to complete the trial properly and to take the right decision on the punishment of the criminal.
On analyzing the possible way of actions of the defense, it is possible to recommend focusing on the detailed psychiatric examination of Velma Barfield. In fact, the defendant of Velma Barfield should insist on the psychiatric examination of the defendant since it was their last and the main chance to avoid the capital punishment for the defendant. In this regard, the involvement of mental health professionals as major witnesses of the defense could help the defense to persuade the jurors and the judge that Velma Barfield really needed the help of health care professionals and could not be tried as a sane person fully responsible for all her actions.
The study of her health history could be helpful to find out possible mental health problems. For instance, if the defendant underwent some medication that could influence her behavior during the time she committed crimes, then the defense could attribute her acts to the impact of her troubled mental condition at the moment, when she committed crimes. In addition, the defense should analyze the possible impact of her childhood psychological traumas and problems caused by domestic or childhood violence and abuse, for instance.
The prosecution did it best in the case State of North Carolina vs. Velma Barfield since the prosecution has managed to obtain the death penalty for the murderer. At the same time, the prosecution would face considerable problems, if the defense would take a strong stance on the insanity of the defendant. In such a situation, the prosecution would have to prove the sanity of the murderer and reveal that all her actions were carefully planned, reasonable and, more important, pursued specific interests of the criminal and, thus, were not driven by her mental health problems, for instance, by her imagination.
As for the judge, the main function of the judge was to prevent the subjective development of the trial and help the jury to take the objective decision on the case to prove the guilt of the criminal or to recognize her not guilty in the crime, she was accused of. In this regard, the judge should work within the legal framework and focus on the representation of the position of both the defense and the prosecution.
In such a situation, the judge should conduct the trial offering the defense and the prosecution equal opportunities to prove their standpoint and vision of the case. For instance, if the defense took the decision to prove that Velma Barfield was insane and could not be tried as a sane person, the judge should appoint the psychiatric examination of the criminal, but provide the prosecution to present their standpoint and possibility of protesting against the psychiatric examination of the criminal. For instance, the judge could accept the offer of the prosecution to hear a psychiatric expert, who could present distinct interpretation of signs of insanity and give recommendations on whether Velma Barfield should be examined or not.
At the same time, the judge confronted the enormous public pressure since, when Velma Barfield appealed, she was already a devoted Christian with the huge army of fellow-Christians, who supported her in her strife for obtaining the life sentence instead of the death penalty. On the other hand, the public opinion was quite controversial since, along with a large number of supporters of Velma Barfield’s appeal, there was a large number of those, who considered her a bloody murderer that deserves nothing but the death penalty.
In this regard, the judge should also prevent the impact of mass media and the public opinion on the jury to take the objective decision on the case of Velma Barfield. To put it more precisely, the judge should limit the highlight of the case in mass media to stop heating up the public opinion that could affect jurors and cause them taking a subjective decision on the case of Velma Barfield. For instance, the Governor of North Carolina declined her request for clemency probably under the impact of the public opinion and the pressure of mass media, which presented Velma Barfield as a serial murderer, who slaughtered her closest relatives and family members.
Thus, the case of State of North Caroline vs. Velma Barfield, the court took the reasonable decision grounded on the effective work of the prosecution and the weak position of the defense. However, the objectivity of the sentence may be questioned because of the enormous public pressure on the parties involved in the trial.
Barfield, Velma. Woman on Death Row. Thomas Nelson Inc. 1985.
Bledsoe, Jerry. Death Sentence: The True Story of Velma Barfield’s Life, Crimes, and Execution. Dutton Adult. 1998.
Druckenmiller, Tom, “Off the Beaten Track: Jonathan Byrd – Wildflowers“, Sign Out! 45(4), Winter 2002, p.134
Schmidt, William E. (1984). “First Woman is Executed in U.S. Since 1962”. New York Times. Retrieved on July 22, 2013
Vronsky, Peter. Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters. Berkley Books, 2007.