SIDNEY – A 20-year-old man who said he stabbed his cousin to death in self defense was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter Thursday afternoon by a Shelby County jury.
Riley Daniel Barger never denied that he caused the death of his cousin, 27-year-old Brianna Wilson, on the afternoon of Feb. 5. However, he said she attacked him that day and he only stabbed her in self defense.
“I was scared,” Barger said of that afternoon. “I was afraid for my life.”
Both the prosecution and defense agreed on almost all of the case details expect for whether or not Barger’s stabbing of Wilson was justified. Prosecutor Tim Sell also questioned whether Barger’s account of the fight that ended in the stabbing occurred exactly as he had described.
“He brought a knife to a cat fight,” Sell said.
Barger had moved into Wilson’s house at 630 Fourth Ave. in Sidney in late December 2020 when he needed a place to stay for a couple days. Barger said Wilson allowed him to stay longer while they and one other roommate searched for jobs together as they intended to carpool to work.
However, more than a month later, Wilson grew tired of Barger living at the house and not contributing financially. She wanted him to move out and threw his possessions outside in the snow on Feb. 5.
After Barger called the Sidney Police Department, officers Jim Jennings and Scott White told Wilson she would have to go through the eviction process. In the meantime, Barger had a right to be in the house, they said.
“We informed her that she had to file for eviction,” White said. “She said she understood that but still wasn’t going to allow him to go back into the house.”
The officers also told Barger he was allowed to break into the home to gain access. When he pushed in a window, another confrontation ensued, and Wilson shoved Barger.
Officers, who returned to the house, again told Wilson she had to allow Barger inside and left the scene once more, stating arguments like that were common and there was no reason to think further violence would occur.
Moments later Wilson called an uncle, Darrin Opphile, who also had been staying at the house, to come and help.
“She said, ‘I’m going to jail. Please get here,’” Opphile said.
The prosecution said the jail comment referred to her disobeying the police orders about letting Barger in the house. The defense suggested it was a threat.
Wilson previously was charged with shooting her boyfriend, whom she said had tried to kill her.
“She says, ‘Riley, I just shot a person. Do you really think I won’t f*** you up?’” Barger said.
While Wilson called Opphile, Barger went into the house and was in the process of bringing an end table up the stairs when Wilson grabbed it from behind. He said she also grabbed his hair and dragged him backwards, a claim the prosecution disputed.
At that point the cellphone video Barger was recording ended, leaving the next few moments unclear.
Barger said Wilson pushed him down, scratching and punching him from behind – an assertion that was at least partially confirmed by scratches on Barger’s nose and around his eye.
Barger also said Wilson, who weighed almost three times as much as him, wouldn’t let him up as he struggled to breath.
“I told her I think I’m going to die,” Barger, who said he has asthma, said. “I begged for her to get off of me.
“The last thing she says is she doesn’t care if I die.”
Barger said he pulled a pocket knife from his coat pocket. With his left hand, he flailed it in the direction of Wilson to attempt to free himself.
He then was able to get out from under her, he said, shortly after which Opphile arrived at the house and told him to leave. Opphile called 911 and performed CPR until police and paramedics arrived.
Barger ran outside to his girlfriend’s car and also called 911. He approached White when the officer returned to the house.
“I just wanted my stuff back,” Barger, also coughing and vomiting, said on a body cam video.
Barger said he was laying on his stomach with Wilson on top of him throughout the stabbing, using his left arm to stab her. She was stabbed six times – twice in the back, once in the back of the head, once on her right arm, once near her right armpit and a fatal blow that penetrated 4 inches into her heart.
However, Dr. Kent Harshbarger, the Montgomery County coroner who performed an autopsy on Wilson, said it didn’t seem possible for Wilson’s injuries to occur in the manner Barger described. Either she or the weapon had to move, Harshbarger said, though there’s no way to determine the exact positions of the two individuals.
“She has to be almost back to his back to make that pathway work,” the coroner said.
Sell said Harshbarger’s testimony should convince the jury that Barger was lying about what happened. He also questioned why Barger didn’t have more injuries beyond his face and hands if Wilson was on top of him, why she didn’t have injuries to her hands if she was punching him and how blood was splattered throughout the room if all the stabs occurred in one location.
“It is not possible that these injuries were sustained as he suggests,” Sell said. “It’s not. So if his act of killing her, if he lies to you about that, if he lies to you about that, I think your common sense would tell you you just can’t believe what he has to say.”
Defense attorney Laura Waymire said the movements of the two individuals during the fight plus Barger retrieving his phone before he left the house contributed to the blood splatter.
She also said if Barger had intended to kill his cousin, more than one of the stab wounds should have penetrated deeper.
“If Riley attacked her in a fit of rage, why only one?” Waymire said. “Riley defended himself against a violent, angry, aggressive person.
“He knows of her violent past. He knows what she’s capable of.
“Riley was in a situation that he saw no other way out of.”
During a video interview later that day at the Sidney Police Department, Barger broke down in tears when he was informed that Wilson had died of her injuries.
“I didn’t want this to happen,” he said while crying.
The trial, with visiting Judge Stacy M. Wall from Miami County, lasted three days. The jury spent approximately two and a half hours deliberating the charge before returning the not guilty verdict, at which time Barger was allowed to go free.
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