The man who seemed to desperately want public attention for killing his wife held a piece of paper over his face and hid from cameras, friends and family at his March 18 arraignment in Pierce County Court.
Tony James Barrett, 42, is facing charges of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Sara Barrett on March 13, 2013; she was found dead in a Tacoma motel room early that morning. He is also facing charges of attempting to elude a police vehicle for leading police on a high-speed chase over the Narrows Bridge.
Barrett pled not guilty to all counts; more charges are expected to be filed against him.
Barrett was quiet in the courtroom and had to be instructed to speak; he wore a suicide-protective, sleeveless suit that went down to his feet, exposing large tribal tattoos up his left arm.
His bail was set to $2 million and Barrett was forbidden from contacting any family or his adult children.
“Based on the nature of this offense and his criminal history with the victim... we ask that the defendant have no contact with either his family or Sara Barrett’s family, including their adult children,” said Pierce County Prosecutor Phil Sorenson. “At the very least, they are potential witnesses in this case.”
According to charging papers, Barrett called KOMO News on March 13, 2013 at 6:50 p.m. to report that he had killed his wife and that she would be found in Puyallup. KOMO called Puyallup Police, who then called the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
A KOMO employee told investigators that a male caller wanted them to post information for him on the news station’s Facebook account. The caller said he killed his wife of 28 years; the employee attempted to ask him questions and the man hung up. Simultaneously, relatives of Sara Barrett called law enforcement to report her missing. They were told by friends that Tony Barrett said his wife was dead, and that he had “done something bad.”
Investigators then began searching for vehicles associated with the Barretts. Police spotted Barrett’s truck driving the wrong way on I-705 just before 3 a.m. the following morning and the high speed chase began; Barrett was stopped by spikes in the road at the Wollochet exit in Gig Harbor. He exited the truck and failed to comply with demands; a K-9 unit eventually subdued him and he was transported to a local trauma center for injuries and a possible over-the-counter drug overdose.
After some time, he told detectives that his wife would probably be found in a local motel, but provided two possible locations. He said, “she was still breathing when I left her.”
She was found dead in room 210 of the Motel 6 on 76th Street in Tacoma later that morning. She was pronounced dead at the scene; her autopsy determined Sara died of asphyxiation. She also suffered two "relatively deep but superficial lacerations on her neck," court papers said.
There is a history of documented domestic violence between the two, including an incident in 2007 when Barrett attempted to suffocate Sara with a pillow after an argument. The fight was broken up by Sara's adult son. Sara failed to show up for follow-up court dates related to her husband’s violence against her.
Barrett told investigators that they went to the motel, had sex and got in a fight, which he said she “won.” He said he left the motel and drove to the Walmart on Mountain Highway, but left his wife $100 so she could take a cab back to her car in Dupont.
Through interviews and surveillance footage, police were able to string together a timeline of the events.
According to detectives, Sara had filed for divorce a few days before the incident, and her husband was aware of the filing. He even had another girlfriend, charging papers show. Sara had communicated with the woman in the week prior to the murder and told her that she was becoming increasingly afraid of her estranged husband.
On March 13, Sara made arrangements to leave her job in Pier 1 Imports Distributing in Dupont early so she could go pick up her son from Longview. At approximately 2 p.m., she called her son and said she was coming to pick him up. Minutes later, a van was observed on surveillance camera stopping near Sara’s car. Investigators determined that Barrett had purchased the van only a few days prior.
A person got out of the van and walked to her car and after a short conversation, got inside. Sara’s car drove away and approximately 40 minutes later, it returned. It appeared that Sara and the other person exited the car and got into the van, via the passenger side. The van left and did not return.
Her car was eventually recovered from the Dupont parking lot by police. Blood was found on the steering wheel.
At approximately 3 p.m., Sara’s son called from Longview and spoke to her. She said she was stuck in traffic. At approximately 4:45 p.m., Tony Barrett checked in to the Motel 6 in Tacoma. Surveillance footage showed him checking in and also Sara in the background, wearing clothing consistent with what she was found in after her death.
At 5:20, Barrett left the motel and purchased fast food. His van was later found at the Walmart on Mountain Highway. Video surveillance showed his van entered the parking lot at 6:20 p.m. and shortly afterward, his truck was filmed leaving.
In the van, detectives found a sock, blanket and pillow with blood on them, a sweatshirt with Sara’s keys in the pocket, a ripped tank top and a fixed blade knife. In his truck, police found a receipt for Advil PM and notes to his family that he had done something bad.
In the motel room, investigators found her clothing, purse and utility knife. Barrett had the motel key in his pants pocket when he was arrested.
Barrett is currently in Pierce County Jail awaiting trial on $2 million bail.