COLUMBIA - After finding Cecil Barriner guilty of two counts of first degree murder, a jury on Friday spared his life by handing down two sentences of life in prison.
Although he will spend the rest of his days behind bars without chance for parole, the jury's sentencing decision was a victory for Barriner, who twice before had been sent to Missouri's death row for the brutal stabbing deaths of two New Madrid County women. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned both convictions.
In his third trial, Barriner again was convicted of murdering Irene Sisk, 74, and her granddaughter Candy Sisk, 19, in their Tallapoosa home on Dec. 16, 1996. The proceedings were held in Boone County before a jury of seven men and five women chosen in neighboring Callaway County.
Barriner, 42, is a former resident of Poplar Bluff.
The case was submitted to the jury late Thursday afternoon following two days of testimony. After seven hours of deliberations that concluded Friday morning, the jury rendered the guilty verdicts.
When the trial went into the penalty phase, assistant attorney general Kevin Zoellner urged jurors to sentence Barriner to death.
"Obviously he believes in the death penalty and is willing to impose it on others," Zoellner said.
Zoellner, who assisted New Madrid County Prosecuting Attorney Lewis Recker with the case, said the heinous nature of the crimes merited the ultimate punishment. Both women were bound and then stabbed repeatedly before their throats were slashed. Candy Sisk was sexually assaulted.
Pointing to Barriner, Zoellner said: "This man here enjoyed it."
Defense attorney Bradford Kessler acknowledged the jury would likely find the aggravating factors required to impose a capital sentence were present in this case. Nonetheless, he asked jurors to show mercy and reject Zoellner's call for vengeance.
"He is asking you to reduce yourselves to being the same type of person you just found Cecil Barriner to be," Kessler said.
In rebuttal, Zoellner dismissed the notion that to sentence Barriner to die is to become him.
"Mercy is for God," Zoellner said. "Unfortunately, down here on Earth we have to deliver justice."
After deliberating about 90 minutes on sentence, the jury handed down its recommendation of life in prison without parole, which was the only option available other than the death sentence.
Senior Judge Frank Conley is scheduled to formally sentence Barriner on Dec. 17. Conley has no discretion to set aside the jury's sentence and impose the death penalty.
Juries in Dent and Warren counties separately convicted Barriner in 1999 and 2002. He received two death sentences following each trial.
The Supreme Court voted 5-2 in 2000 to reverse the Dent County verdict.
The court ruled the trial judge erroneously allowed the prosecution to present irrelevant and prejudicial evidence.
The high court overturned result of the second trial in 2003. The court, in a close 4-3 decision, said the jury was wrongly prohibited from considering potentially exculpatory evidence.
The case is State of Missouri v. Cecil Barriner.