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Fort Walton Beach woman found guilty of murdering 5-month-old son, sentenced to life in prison

Maria Rodriguez-Barnes was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting her 5-month-old son in the parking of The Boardwalk in March 2020. Prosecutors argued she killed the child to get back at her husband after he ended their relationship.
Okaloosa County Jail

A Fort Walton Beach woman was found guilty Wednesday of first-degree premeditated murder in the shooting death of her 5-month-old son and sentenced to life in prison.

  • Maria Rodriguez-Barnes, 35, was convicted of killing her infant son, Jaxxon Rodriguez-Barnes, in the parking lot of The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island on March 25, 2020.

According to testimony, Rodriguez-Barnes drove her son to The Boardwalk parking lot on Okaloosa Island, the same location where her husband, Richard Barnes, had proposed to her, on the morning of the shooting. She then called Barnes and told him, “I’m sorry for what I’m about to do,” before ending the call.

  • Moments later, Rodriguez-Barnes shot her son once in the chest as he sat strapped in the backseat of her truck. She then shot herself in the torso.

Prosecutors alleged that Rodriguez-Barnes killed her son in response to Barnes telling her that their relationship was over. Assistant State Attorney Michelle Sandler argued that the defendant shot her son as a way to get back at her husband.

  • “She took the only thing from their relationship that was precious, that was the physical representation of their relationship,” Sandler said. “And because it was actually over, he said, ‘I’m done’. She decided to kill her son.”

Workers at The Boardwalk called 911 around 8:30 a.m. after seeing Rodriguez-Barnes outside her vehicle. Deputies found Jaxxon slumped over in the truck’s backseat with a gunshot wound to the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

A search of the truck revealed a 9mm handgun, shell casings, and handwritten notes, according to Assistant State Attorney Michelle Sandler. In one note addressed to her parents, Rodriguez-Barnes wrote, “I’m so sorry for taking Jaxxon with me. But this is my final and only option.”

In her closing argument, Sandler pointed to the handwritten notes, text messages, and the location of the shooting as evidence of premeditation.

  • “There is no statement that shows premeditation more and shows planning more than that,” Sandler said. “I’m sorry for what I’m about to do.”

Defense attorney Jason McKinney acknowledged that Rodriguez-Barnes caused her son’s death but argued the state had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that she made a conscious decision to kill at the time of the shooting.

“Whether or not this is first-degree premeditated murder really goes to the question of premeditation,” McKinney said. “And because that question arises, that is a doubt. That doubt is reasonable.”

In her rebuttal, Sandler said the evidence showed Rodriguez-Barnes “killing after consciously deciding to do so.”

  • “That is a conscious decision to put a 5-month-old infant in the back of a truck, put a gun up to his side, and pull the trigger…,” she said.

The jury found Rodriguez-Barnes guilty as charged. Circuit Judge John T. Brown sentenced her to life in prison.

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