Lanny Barnes will spend the rest of this life in jail after pleading guilty Monday to the 2006 murder of 2-year-old Avery King.
Barnes was sentenced to life without parole for the murder of King and to four 20-year sentences for the aggravated assault of Anita King, Stephanie Casola, Jacob Casola and Isaac Casola. All sentences will run concurrently.
Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne offered the plea-bargained deal to Barnes' defense after a private meeting with Barnes' doctor. In the meeting, the doctor reportedly told Wynne that Barnes' condition was deteriorating because of the leukemia and that without a bone marrow transplant, Barnes would soon die. Wynne said that even with the transplant, Barnes only had a 33 percent chance of survival.
Wynne conferred with the victim's family, who agreed with the DA that a plea-bargain was the best course of action to ensure some form of justice.
"I don't think the Casola's will ever have true justice," Wynne said. "But this is as close as I think we can come."
In the courtroom Monday, when entering the plea to Judge Eugene Benton, Wynne described Barnes' actions in great detail for the court. In May 2006, Barnes repeatedly ran over the five victims with his mother's car while in a McDonald's parking lot on U.S. Highway 278.
Barnes' lead attorney Chris Adams said in court that Barnes had suffered several "major losses" in his 20s which may have led to depression and possibly schizophrenia. Adams and co-council Newton County Public Defender Anthony Carter had planned on using this as a defense had the case gone to trial.
"I think that really explains what happened that day at McDonald's," Adams said. "This is a man with a great heart but problems with his head."
Adams said Barnes wanted to take responsibility for his actions.
"He wishes he could undo what he has done, but of course he can not," Adams said.
After Barnes was sentenced Paul Casola, Stephanie Casola and Anita King were allowed to speak to the court. They directed their comments to Barnes, who declined to look up from the desk even when asked to by a tearful Stephanie Casola.
Paul Casola said he disagreed with Adams' interpretation of Barnes as a man.
"I do not think that you have a great heart," Paul Casola said.
During Paul Casola's speech, he brought each of his three children separately in front of the court with him so Barnes could see the harm he had caused. He described his experiences with his sons directly after the attack.
"I put my hand on the back of his head to comfort him, but my hand sunk into his head because it was mush," Paul Casola said.
He also spoke about the last time he saw his niece Avery. She did not look like the beautiful pictures presented in the center of the courtroom, he said. Instead her head was five times its normal size as he, as a preacher, read Avery her last rites.
The night that Avery died, Paul Casola said he had to take responsibility for Barnes' actions as he embraced Avery's father and repeatedly told him "I'm sorry."
"You couldn't just own up to it like a man," Paul Casola said. "I have never seen someone so completely selfish, making the good people of Newton County pay for all your medical care. They are not paying for my wife or my children."
Stephanie Casola said she can no longer truthfully tell her children monsters do not exist in this world.
"Everyday they ask if the 'mean man' is going to come back and hit them again," she said.
The boys now have panic attacks in parking lots and are untrusting of strangers, Stephanie Casola said.
"Mr. Barnes, you are the lowest form of humanity that exists," she said in front of a courtroom packed with weeping family and friends. "I hope your parents are proud."
She also told Barnes he was more valuable to society dead than alive.
"I promise I will be there the day you are put in the ground," she said. "I'll be there with a smile."
As she began her presentation, Anita King said all she ever wanted to be was a mother.
"She was my happiness," King said of her daughter Avery.
She read excerpts of a diary she had written while Avery was still alive, which she had intended to give to Avery when she was older. In the last entry in the diary before Avery's death, Anita King described how happy she felt after her little girl said "I love you, too" back to her.
The journal entry was written soon before she began to prepare for Avery's third birthday party. Anita King said she the party was to be Cinderella themed with plenty of decorations which she was sure Avery would enjoy, but Avery died six days before they could have the birthday party. The Cinderella decorations where instead used at Avery's funeral.
The journal's last entry was written Nov. 14, months after Avery's death.
"We brought your sister home today," Anita King wrote.
She said she could imagine Avery running around the house, protecting her baby sister Gracie, and telling everyone who tried to touch her, "No, that's my baby."
Later in the journal entry, Anita King admitted she had had some terrible thoughts.
"It is a pain like no other," she said. "I miss you so. I contemplated taking my own life just to be there with you."
Only the knowledge the she would meet her daughter again in heaven kept her going on.
"I will laugh as I stand over your grave," Anita King said to Barnes. "I can never convey how much I hate you. I will never forgive you."
She then let her daughter have the final word, showing a video of the girl recorded a short while before her death. On the video, Avery could be seen sitting in a highchair eating with her small hands. At one point, Avery began to say her ABCs but lost her way after the letter D. Later in the video, Avery said, "I love you, mommy. I love you, daddy."
While the video played, Barnes could be seen holding a tissue to his eyes. Anita King said she wanted him to see what he had destroyed.
"I know you must have seen my baby as she slammed into the windshield," Anita King said. "I screamed for you to 'Stop, stop, you were running over babies,' but you didn't. When you ran the front of your car into my back, with my baby in my arms while you laughed, I knew you were trying to kill us. Well it's our turn to laugh as the leukemia rips through your body. I hope you know how much pleasure I take in your pain."