Retired Trial Judge & Career Prosecutor
Pierre, South Dakota
Judge Barnett was a trial judge for 12 years and now does such work part time. Before going on the bench, he was elected South Dakota’s Attorney General three times, trying homicide cases and managing the prosecutors, crime lab, and Division of Criminal Investigation. As a prosecutor, he did not lose a jury trial in 25 years. He completed the Reid School of Interview and Interrogation course, and used it throughout his career as a prosecutor. The SD States Attorneys Association chose him as Prosecutor of the Year for 2007.
Barnett was lead prosecutor on a three month long jury trial of South Dakota’s only serial killer, and won a death penalty verdict. That case was later featured in FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood’s book ‘Dark Dreams.’ He also successfully prosecuted a case many called the “Big Box Murder,” where a Walmart manager murdered his wife and then planted DNA of her boyfriend, on her body. The boyfriend was manager at the Kmart across the road. This case has now been featured in three different national crime documentaries for television, on Dateline NBC; the series ‘The Devil Speaks;’ and the Oxygen Channel’s series ‘Framed.’
Barnett prosecuted the “Baby Moses” case, as the press called it. A young couple hid the pregnancy, murdered the baby boy at birth, and hid the body in the landfill. The mother claimed the boy was stillborn, and then both parents “lawyered up.” Barnett and his teammate ground through 18 months of grilling witnesses at grand jury, but still had nothing. Barnett’s neonatology expert told the grand jury that the odds of live birth at home were only 65-70%, the definition of a reasonable doubt. But Barnett was not willing to let the killers walk. He had a hunch his own medical expert was wrong, so he and his teammate went to work with the national Vital Statistics agency, and were able to prove the odds of live birth at home were 97-98%. With these new numbers, the couple was convicted.
Prior to becoming a Judge, Barnett argued and won two reversals in the United States Supreme Court. He has been a keynote speaker on ethics, at several national conferences. He was given the University of South Dakota’s Alumni Achievement Award for Public Service, in 2009.
The Judge climbs “14’ers” (peaks above 14,000’ elevation) when his knee cooperates. He gained a black belt in Shotokan Karate at age 53. He has taught other judges on personal and building security, and sits on the South Dakota Supreme Court’s Courthouse Security Committee.
The Judge has taught “testifying in court” to thousands of South Dakota law enforcement officers, since 1980.