Crime

Execution delayed for Fort Worth man convicted of killing pregnant girlfriend, child

An appeals court postponed the execution of a Fort Worth man convicted of killing his pregnant girlfriend and her 7-year-old son more than a decade ago.

A Tarrant County jury found Stephen Dale Barbee guilty of the murders of Lisa Underwood and her son Jayden in February 2006, but he has maintained his innocence. The court set his execution date for Oct. 2, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Monday his case had grounds for an appeal. Barbee argued his trial counsel overrode his Sixth Amendment right to maintain his innocence, which he says would require a new trial.

Prosecutors accused Barbee of suffocating Underwood and Jayden in February 2005, then driving their bodies to a shallow grave in Denton County. Police believe Barbee, who was married, killed Underwood because he believed she was pregnant with his child, according to trial testimony. A DNA test later proved he was not the father of the unborn baby.

Underwood’s friends and family became suspicious when the 34-year-old mother didn’t show up for a baby shower a few days later.

When detectives first brought him in for questioning, Barbee said he hadn’t seen Underwood for months. But when he went to the bathroom alone with a detective, police said that he admitted to the killing. The conversation wasn’t recorded, and Barbee later said it was coerced.

Barbee was sentenced to death Feb. 23, 2006, and has filed two other unsuccessful appeals. In those appeals, attorneys argued his trial counsel was unprepared and ineffective and that police withheld parts of their interrogation.

The appeals court gave attorneys 30 days to file briefs regarding Barbee’s new Sixth Amendment argument.

This story includes information from Star-Telegram archives.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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