Judge sets terms for murder defendant Ralph Barker to leave jail

Feb. 15, 2013 @ 08:21 AM

A large group of supporters looked on as a sullen and occasionally sobbing Ralph Barker was granted bond Thursday in Caldwell District Court.

Barker, 71, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, shuffled into the courtroom with help from a deputy. He was charged with murder and accused of shooting Danny Marlin Bowman, a neighbor, in the face with a 20-gauge shotgun as Bowman sat in his pickup truck outside Barker’s home off Kistler Lane in Dudley Shoals the evening of Feb. 7. Bowman died there. Barker was ordered held without bond. Thursday's appearance was to determine whether a judge would set a bond amount that would allow Barker to get out of jail while awaiting trial.

“The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office got a call from Elaine,” Tutterow said. “Deputies saw Barker outside the residence.

Assistant District Attorney Dawn Tutterow said that Elaine Barker had called to report the shooting, and Caldwell County sheriff's deputies arrived to find Barker outside his house at 4429 Kistler Lane. "He told officers Bowman tried to hit him with a truck, that’s why he shot him,” she said.

She said Bowman was found in the driver’s seat of the truck, still belted in, with the door closed and the window rolled down. No weapon was found on Bowman or in the truck. An autopsy revealed Bowman suffered defensive wounds to his hands, indicating he put his hands up to try to protect himself from the shot.

Barker told detectives he had gone to a neighbor’s house to get meatloaf for supper, Tutterow said. When he came back to his house, he saw cinder blocks placed outside his house, partially blocking a driveway. He told detectives he grabbed a shotgun and four shells, went out and shot the cinder blocks, then went back inside the house. When he came back outside a few minutes later, he saw Bowman, and the two argued over the cinder blocks, Tutterow said. Barker told detectives he called Bowman derogatory names, and at some point raised the shotgun and fired once.

Barker’s attorney, Robert Campbell, called two witnesses to support his argument that the circumstances of the shooting warranted allowing Barker to post bond and get out of jail.

Debbie Bumgarner testified that she has known Barker and his wife of 52 years, Elaine, for 12 years, even attending the same church. She said Barker was “one of the most gentle men I’ve ever known.” She said she had never known him to be violent or heard about any violence involving him.

Willie Hall, a semi-retired homebuilder who lived at the same trailer park as Barker and Bowman, testified that Bowman was convicted of assaulting him with a deadly weapon.

“He always wanted to shoot or kill someone,” Hall testified. “He was very arrogant. He was not peaceful, that’s for sure.”

Campbell said Barker suffers from a heart arrhythmia, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which makes it difficult to breath, and is on oxygen 24 hours a day. Campbell also told the court Barker had no criminal record, no history of drug or alcohol abuse, and had strong family ties in the community.

“This is not a capital offense,” Campbell said as he asked for a reduced bond. “This is not especially heinous or cruel. He is charged with an undesignated murder. We ask for a bond in the $15,000 to $20,000 range.”

Tutterow asked that the court keep Barker in jail with no bond allowed.

“This is a first-degree murder charge,” Tutterow told the court. “While not a capital murder charge, it is a capital offense. Your honor has the ability to hold Barker under no bond."

Judge Robert Mullinax Jr. set bond at $150,000 secured. A secured bond is one in which a defendant must post money or property up front to stay out of jail until the case is adjudicated. A bondsman can post the entire amount for a 15 percent fee, meaning that Barker could get out of jail by posting $22,500 or property worth that much with a bondsman.

Barker had not posted bond by late Thursday afternoon.

With an unsecured bond, a defendant can bond out of jail simply by signing his name. If the person don't show up for court, a judgment for the amount owed can be ordered.

Mullinax ordered that if Barker is released on bond, he must remain under house arrest at his residence and not leave Caldwell County except for doctor appointments in Rowan and Catawba counties. Barker must also surrender all firearms and have no contact with the Bowman family.