Tuesday, April 8, 2008 • Former correctional officer faces attempted murder charge

Steven Lewis Barnett, a former correctional officer, will be held to answer felony charges of attempted murder, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, spousal abuse, a great bodily injury enhancement and a misdemeanor charge of battery.

Barnett committed the alleged offenses against his wife and his 17-year-old daughter during an incident in the family’s home on the evening of March 3.

Barnett appeared in court for a preliminary hearing Thursday, April 3. He did not enter a plea and will be arraigned on Tuesday, April 15. Lassen County Superior Court Judge Donald Sokol set bail at $500,000. A protective order, issued on Thursday, March 13, remains in effect. Barnett was in custody at the time of the court proceeding.

Barnett’s wife, Dawn, took the witness stand and recounted the beating she said she received from her husband.

The victim displayed a range of emotions during her testimony — wiping the tears from her eyes with tissue one moment and then bristling at questions from her husband’s attorney, Stephen King, of Chico.

Barnett, who works as the safety officer for Lassen County, acknowledged she had filed for divorce from her husband on Dec. 13, 2007. She said she had removed the firearms from the couple’s home but didn’t fear for her safety, even after she told her husband she was seeking a divorce.

Barnett said the couple considered going out to dinner at the Black Bear Diner the night of the alleged assault, but once they arrived at the eatery, her husband said he didn’t feel well, and they returned home.

While the couple sat in their living room, Barnett said her husband launched into a “tirade” and she thought his “remarks were odd.”

As the conversation continued, she became afraid and tried to make a couple of cell phone calls. One party hung up and Barnett left a voice-mail message for another party.

When her husband picked up a letter opener and started flicking it against a piece of paper, Barnett said she used her cell phone to record the conversation she was having with her husband.

Barnett testified her husband threatened to kill her several times during the attack. She said he told her, “This is where the other shoe drops,” and that he’d been working out to get in shape while she was away on trips to “execute this.”

According to Barnett, her husband had complained of “hearing things,” and said, “It was all my fault.”

She said he grabbed the coat she was wearing and pulled the lapels up over her face — one lapel over her mouth and the other lapel over her nose — and then tried to smother her.

Somehow she said she ended up face down on the floor with her husband on top of her. She said he grabbed her left arm, pulled it behind her back, pulled it up and broke her arm.

“I heard it pop,” she said, and she lost all feeling in her arm. She said her husband tried to grab her right arm and break it, too, but that attempt failed.

Barnett’s arm is still in a cast and she showed the court a long incision on her upper arm and the wires running to her fingers. She said she suffered a “spiral fracture of the left humerus” and nerve damage.

She said she was initially treated at Banner Lassen Medical Center, but later spent several days at Renown Medical Center in Reno.

Somehow Barnett ended up on her back with her husband on top of her, and he started beating her head and face. She also said her husband grabbed her by the hair and slammed her head into the floor repeatedly.

She said in an effort to appease him, she “told him anything to stop the beating.”

When the couple’s daughter arrived home from work, she knocked on the locked door because she couldn’t find her keys.

Barnett said her husband told the daughter the couple had made up and were making love and to wait for a couple of minutes.

Barnett said her husband dragged her to the master bathroom and told her to sit on the commode and face the corner.

“He told me not to turn around or he would kill me,” Barnett said.

When the couple’s daughter came into the bathroom, Barnett said she said, “What the (expletive) did you do to her, and then he slapped her.”

The daughter managed to send a text message to a friend asking the friend to call the police.

After hearing from Barnett and Kevin Jones, an investigator for the Lassen County District Attorney’s Office, King argued the DA had failed to make the argument for an attempted murder charge.

He noted his client did not use possible weapons in the house — including a fireplace poker in the living room, knives in the kitchen and the letter opener during the assault.

“What we have here is very serious domestic violence with great bodily injury,” King said. “The people have not met their burden.”

He also said his client was struggling with mental health issues.

Lassen County District Attorney Robert Burns argued his office had met the burden of proof given the defendant’s actions and his statements.

He also said it was “happenstance” the couple’s daughter was able to send a text message seeking aid from the police. He said it was “fortuitous for all concerned” that the daughter was able to send that text message seeking aid from the police.

Burns also noted he was not seeking attempted murder charges against Barnett for his alleged assault against his daughter.

“We don’t have the conduct with the daughter,” Burns said, “but we do with the wife.”