'I can't explain why I did what I did': Florida inmate Darryl Barwick apologizes before execution

Darryl Barwick spoke briefly before he was executed by lethal injection Wednesday night. When the screen was raised in the execution chamber, Barwick was already strapped onto a table and covered with a sheet except for his face and left arm, where the intravenous lines were already placed.

“It’s time to apologize to the victim’s family, to my family. I can’t explain why I did what I did,” Barwick said, supine on the gurney and looking up as he spoke. “And another thing I would like to say, the state of Florida needs to show some kind of compassion and kindness for each other with so many kids in prison. There are 14- and 15-year-olds serving life sentences.”

There were no family or friends of Barwick or his victim, 24-year-old Rebecca Wendt, to witness his execution. There were 17 official witnesses besides four members of the press and staff with the Florida Department of Corrections present.

Darryl Barwick
Darryl Barwick

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With his statement finished, a DOC staff member announced the end of the preparation phase of the execution and the execution phase was to begin. The execution team began administering the lethal cocktail of three drugs, which include a sedative, paralytic, and a drug to stop his heart, at 6:02 p.m.

Witnesses were only able to see Barwick’s face as his body was covered by a sheet except his left arm which contained the intravenous lines. His eyes remained open throughout the procedure. Barwick breathed heavily for several minutes with his chest visibly moving up and down and his left arm twitching shortly after the process began. At 6:06, staff attempted to speak with Barwick, who did not respond but his eyes remained open.

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Within 12 minutes Barwick was pronounced dead by a doctor on the execution team at 6:14 p.m.

In 1986, Darryl Barwick was 19-years-old when prosecutors say he saw 24-year-old Rebecca Wendt sunbathing by the pool of her apartment complex in Panama City and followed her home. Prosecutors say he had been watching her and went back to his house nearby to grab a knife and gloves before returning to her apartment.

Wendt and her sister, Michael Ann, had moved to the Florida Panhandle from Huron, Ohio. Michael Ann Wendt returned home from working in Fort Walton Beach that day in March to find her sister’s bloody, bathing suit clad body wrapped in her bedroom comforter and left in the bathtub. She had been stabbed 37 times.

Her family did not issue a statement after the execution, as some victim’s families have in the past.

For his last meal, the Florida Department of Corrections said Barwick ordered fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas and rice, cornbread, strawberry ice cream, and a cola.

In his last appeal to the Florida Supreme Court Barwick’s attorneys argued that the execution should be halted because of his lifelong mental illness and intellectual disability. He’s the last of three death row inmates executed in Florida so far this year, after a three-and-a-half year lull brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donald David Dillbeck’s execution on Feb. 23, was the first since 2019 when Gary Ray Bowles was put to death by lethal injection in August 2019 for a murder in Jacksonville.

Dillbeck was also Florida's 100th execution since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated. He was sent to death row for the 1990 murder of Faye Lamb Vann in a Tallahassee mall parking lot.

Louis Bernard Gaskin, the so-called “ninja killer,” was executed April 12 by lethal injection. He was convicted of killing New Jersey couple Robert and Georgette Sturmfels in 1989, in their Flagler County, Florida winter home.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been signing death warrants at a rapid pace this year as he prepares his widely expected presidential campaign. He oversaw only two executions in his first four years in office, both in 2019.

Since then, he signed the death warrants for the three death row inmates executed this year. This month the Florida governor also lowered the threshold for imposing the death penalty in the state, allowing juries to recommend it without a unanimous vote. Under new legislation passed by the legislature, only eight out of twelve jurors need to recommend the death penalty.

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DeSantis also approved another bill passed by the lawmakers this week, which makes sexual batter of a child under age 12 a death penalty offense. The governor publicly pushed for both bills.

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Death penalty opponents like Maria DeLiberato, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, had this to say about the death penalty and the passage of the recent legislation doubling down on it.

“It’s reactionary. It’s a politically popular place to be to say we are tough on crime,” said DeLiberato. “It sounds really nice as a soundbite. In reality, we are not any safer by these extreme death penalty laws. It’s reactionary to both the Parkland verdict last fall, where three jurors chose life, and it’s reactionary in this standard of, ‘we’re going to be the law and order, tough-on-crime state.’”

Sigrid Wade with United Against the Death Penalty (left) and Claudine Clark with French Coalition Against the Death Penalty protested outside Florida State Prison leading up to the execution of Darryl Barwick.
Sigrid Wade with United Against the Death Penalty (left) and Claudine Clark with French Coalition Against the Death Penalty protested outside Florida State Prison leading up to the execution of Darryl Barwick.

She said life in prison without the possibility of parole is a harsh penalty for those who need to be separated from society, especially since the reasons supporters of the death penalty extoll don’t hold up under scrutiny, she said.

“It’s purely vengeful. Nobody is thinking, ‘I shouldn’t do this, or I’ll get the death penalty,’ that’s not what happens when a violent crime is committed. It doesn’t make our community any safer. It costs an exorbitant amount of money, way more money to execute somebody than to give them life without parole. It cannot bring back the loved one.”

DeLiberato held a protest across from Florida State Prison shortly before Barwick’s execution, just like the group has held for every execution going back decades. She said it’s to show that not everyone in the State of Florida supports the death penalty for a variety of reasons. Her organization was one of several that showed up to protest Barwick’s execution.

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Claudine Clark is president and founder of the French Coalition Against the Death Penalty. She travels back and forth between France and the United States raising awareness about the unfair and subjective way the death penalty is executed. Florida is the first state where the organization started working with death row inmates to improve conditions on death row, their access to medical care, and to their friends and family.

She had been working personally with Barwick for some time and he wrote her his last letter, this week.

“We just lost a friend, a member of our family, so it’s hard,” said Clark.  “I knew Darryl, my last letter from him was two days ago. When you really get involved with the people on death row, it changes your life. He told me he appreciates all the support he got in the last couple of weeks. He received a lot of letters from people all over Europe. He was really at peace, and I think it’s amazing, he was trying to say, ‘Be OK, I’m OK.’ We’re supposed to do that for him and he probably spent the last two weeks saying that to everybody.”

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Larry Basford, who prosecuted the case against Barwick since he was arrested in 1986, issued a statement regarding the Panama City man’s execution.

“This is a case where there has never been a doubt about the defendant’s guilt,” Basford said.  “Not one, but two juries found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and recommended that he be sentenced to death. Unfortunately, it took 37 years from the time of the crime for that punishment to be carried out in this case. We appreciate the tireless efforts of the Attorney General’s Office and Governor DeSantis’ office to obtain justice for the victim and her family.”

Just under 300 people, mostly men and a few women, remain on Florida's death row. No other death warrants have been signed at this time.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Darryl Barwick execution: Florida Death row inmate apologizes