A Time To Kill

Was It Self-Defense?

CBS News 48 Hours introduces you to Sterling Barber, a young man accused of murder. Barber, who was 17 when the incident occurred, admits that he killed the man, Douglas Wyatt, but claims he stabbed him in self-defense after Wyatt tried to rape him. Unconvinced, a jury convicted him of murder and the judge sentenced him to life in jail, plus 40 years. Barber appealed his case. What will happen? And who is in the right?

48 Hours Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports from Georgia.

Now 20, Barber spent over three years in prison for stabbing Douglas Wyatt to death on Nov. 27, 1995. That night, Barber was hanging out at a truck stop near his home in rural Carnesville, Georgia. Barber was approached by Wyatt, who said he was a private detective and offered Barber $40 to drive him around town. Soon after, Barber says, Wyatt pulled to the side of a dark road and said he had to relieve himself. When he returned to the car, Barber says, Wyatt tried to sexually assault him. Barber says he fought back; he stabbed Wyatt six times, once in the neck and six times in the groin.

Find out more about child sex abuse: how to spot it, how to treat it, and how to avoid hysteria over it.
Barber pulled Wyatt out of the car and drove off -- in Wyatt's car. He went home and told his mother what had happened. Then he went on the run. Three days later, after getting a tip, police arrested Sterling Barber, who confessed and told them where to find Wyatt's body. Sterling was charged with murder and armed robbery.

Many people say that Barber is a good kid who got caught in a scary situation and just reacted. But police and prosecutors say that he didn't need to kill Wyatt to avoid getting raped, and that he was out to rob the dead man.

Wyatt left behind a wife and two children. They believe their father was a good man, and that Barber should pay for the death. Many local people remember Wyatt, who was a beautician and used car salesman, as a decent person who did favors for people.

Douglas Wyatt
But as CBS News 48 Hours discovered, Wyatt had a secret life. Investigators came up with at least six men who were molested by Wyatt over a period of several decades. Several say that Wyatt used the same M.O. on them that he allegedly used on Barber. In one case, Wyatt was accused of using a gun to threaten his victim. Wyatt was also caught scamming an elderly neighbor into signing her house over to im. A judge ordered him to return everything. Says his wife Pat, who continues to defend her husband: "He wasn't a man that would hurt someone. He would not force himself on someone... I'm not saying that he didn't have problems. I'm very aware that he did have problems in his life. I don't believe he was a child molester."

At Barber's first trial, a judge allowed only a smattering of this evidence to be shown to the jury. Barber was convicted. Barber was also hurt by testimony from an acquaintance who said that in the hours after the stabbing, an apparently calm Barber went to a diner, ate an enormous meal, and paid for it with blood-spattered money. Barber denies this.

Barber then got a new lawyer and appealed the verdict, arguing that because child molesting is a violent crime, the evidence should have been admitted to show the pattern of Wyatt's behavior. At the time of the first trial, Georgia law did not classify child molesting as violence. In 1997, the Georgia Supreme Court decided that child molesting was a violent crime and overturned Barber's conviction. Barber and his supporters were ecstatic.

Because of delays caused by both the prosecution and the defense, Barber's case has yet to be heard. In the years he's been in jail, he's grown four inches and gained 40 pounds. Sterling has aged, says his mother, who works tirelessly on his case: "He's about 50 years old now. Sterling is an old person now in a young person's body."

One week after 48 Hours first broadcast his story in February, Barber walked out of jail, thanks to the kindness of strangers who saw the program and posted his bond. Since then, Barber has been working, and is enjoying his freedom for now. But he knows he could be locked up again if he loses his case. He's still waiting for a trial date to be set.

Produced by David Kohn. ©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed