Once a central figure in Cape Breton’s drug trade, Barrett, 42, was sentenced last year to life in prison for the murder of a 21-year-old Glace Bay woman.
He was scheduled to stand trial again on Sept. 11 for the 2012 murder of another 21-year-old woman, Laura Catherine Jessome of Little Bras d’Or.
In a shocking turn of events in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Barrett instead pleaded guilty Wednesday to being an accessory after the fact to murder in relation to Jessome’s death. A second-degree murder charge was withdrawn.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Barrett took a hockey bag containing Jessome’s remains and dumped them in the Mira River, near Marion Bridge.
Outside the courtroom, Crown prosecutor Kathryn Pentz said the plea deal was reached, as Barrett’s case did not meet the test for a realistic prospect of conviction.
“We had no forensic evidence and no co-operative evidence,” Pentz said. “The witnesses that we based our cases upon were in fact recanted, and there was no co-operation to what we hoped they would say, so we were left with no evidence to adduce.”
Pentz said the Crown’s ability to drawn upon witness testimony was regularly evaluated over the course of Barrett’s criminal proceedings.
She could not comment as to whether the Glace Bay man’s criminal stature had a chilling effect on the witnesses in this case.
“I don’t think there was a wide circle of people, perhaps, that knew what happened,” said Pentz. “Having said that, the Crown certainly thinks that there are people out there that know what happened and haven’t come forward.”
Pentz said the justice system only works when people co-operate and testify honestly, but noted that that was not the case in this matter.
Barrett has already received a life sentence in relation to the second-degree murder of Brett Elizabeth McKinnon, who disappeared in the summer of 2006.
A judge who tried the case extended Barrett’s parole to at least 15 years, reduced to 12 for time spent on remand.
In relation to Jessome’s death, a co-accused, Morgan James MacNeil, is serving seven years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. He was originally charged with second-degree murder but accepted the lesser offence prior to the start of his trial.
According to a statement of facts that was presented in MacNeil’s case, he, Barrett, and Jessome spent the night of May 2, 2012 partying and doing drugs at Barrett’s apartment on West Street in Glace Bay.
The next morning, MacNeil and Barrett were doing drugs when Jessome asked for some but Barrett refused to give them to her.
After an argument ensued, Jessome stormed out of the building, although Barrett ordered MacNeil to bring her back.
MacNeil, who did not kill Jessome, then dragged her back down the stairs and into the apartment where she was strangled with a ligature.
In relation to Jessome’s death, a third man, Robert Edwin Matheson, received a three-and-a-half year sentence for driving Barrett to dispose of her body.
Members of Jessome’s family attended Wednesday’s proceeding but offered no comment to media as they left the courtroom.
Barrett will now be sentenced on Oct. 31.