TERRE HAUTE —
A Terre Haute man who admitted at trial to carrying a handgun as a felon was found not guilty of possessing a firearm by a Vigo County jury on Tuesday evening.
Lance Barbee, 34, began sobbing as Judge John Roach read the jury verdict following more than two hours of deliberation in Vigo Superior Court 1.
Barbee had been arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, a class-B felony, after he called 911 on Jan. 7, 2010, to report that a masked man had just held a gun to his ex-girlfriend’s at her Seventh Avenue residence.
During testimony in his trial, Barbee admitted that he took a silver handgun from his ex-girlfriend after her assailant ran off, and that he then drove around the neighborhood looking for the suspect. He said he knew that he was not supposed to possess a gun because of a 1998 conviction for attempted robbery that occurred when he was 17 years old.
But Barbee stated in court that he was afraid for the safety of his ex-girlfriend, and he wanted to find the person who held a gun to her head. He said that even though he took the gun with him, he did not fire it or point it at anyone.
The 12-person jury heard from several witnesses, including:
• Terre Haute Police Lt. Jeff Milner, who said he retrieved the handgun from Barbee’s vehicle when Barbee returned to his ex-girlfriend’s residence after not finding the suspect.
• The ex-girlfriend, who said that Barbee interrupted the attack by the masked man by walking in the door as the man held a gun to her head. She said she retrieved the gun from her closet, loaded it and gave it to Barbee on her porch.
• Detective Rick Decker, who said that during an interview at police headquarters following the incident, Barbee did not indicate that he was afraid for the safety of his children, ex-girlfriend or himself when he took the gun.
• And Barbee himself, who became tearful as he told about encountering the suspect, and agitated by the questioning of Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rob Roberts, who Barbee said twisted the meaning of his words in telling about the incident.
Roberts questioned Barbee on why he would leave his ex-girlfriend to go looking for the suspect, after Barbee stated that he already felt guilty for backing out of her residence and leaving her on the floor when the gunman reportedly pointed a handgun at Barbee, who had interrupted the attack on the ex-girlfriend by entering the front door of her residence.
Roberts said that Barbee’s initial reaction to the incident is understandable, but once the attacker fled the scene and Barbee called 911 to report the incident, he set out on a vigilante mission to catch the “bad guy” rather than wait on police to arrive.
“It’s at this point that the defendant commits a criminal act,” Roberts said of Barbee leaving the scene with the handgun. “He takes the law into his own hands.”
Defense attorney Steven Blakely said Barbee was acting in self-defense and in defense of his ex-girlfriend and children because he thought the suspect might come back and he wanted the person caught.
“I did as much as I felt was necessary,” Barbee said, pointing out that he did not lie to the police when questioned about having the gun. He also noted that when he saw a possible suspect at a nearby convenience store, he did not use the gun. He said he soon realized when the possible suspect turned around that he was not the man from the home invasion.
“Even when I thought I saw him, I didn’t reach for the gun. I reached for the phone and called 911,” Barbee said.
Barbee was arrested on the night of the home invasion. He was released on his own recognizance after appearing in court and being ordered by Judge Michael Eldred not to possess a weapon under any circumstances.
Since that January 2010 arrest, Barbee was arrested on a marijuana charge, which remains pending.
Following the jury verdict, Roberts said that he appreciates the service of the jury and their consideration of the facts of the case.
“We always respect the verdict that a jury brings back,” he said.
Defense attorney Blakely said he was relieved by the jury’s verdict.
“It was the right result. I try cases all over, and people in Vigo County tend to be far more sensible and have more common sense than anywhere else,” he said, crediting attorney Misty McDonald with assisting the defense.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@
tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.