Duluth witness says he saw Barnes shoot backwards into crowdAntonio Thunberg said he was running down a Central Hillside alley with Philbert “Darkman’’ Barnes and another man on July 12 when he saw Barnes put his hand behind his back and fire a series of shots indiscriminately into a crowd, resulting in the death of 22-year-old Curtis Cooney.
By: Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune
Antonio Thunberg said he was running down a Central Hillside alley with Philbert “Darkman’’ Barnes and another man on July 12 when he saw Barnes put his hand behind his back and fire a series of shots indiscriminately into a crowd, resulting in the death of 22-year-old Curtis Cooney.
But there was nothing clear-cut about the soft-spoken Thunberg’s testimony, nor his memory and his admission that he had lied to police. He told a St. Louis County jury today that he was telling them the truth about what he saw happen on that warm Sunday evening last July.
Barnes, 40, is standing trial in St. Louis County District Court on second-degree murder and assault charges in the shooting death of Cooney and the wounding of Ephriam “Darell’’ Burks.
Thunberg, 32, said he is the married father of four children between 9 and 13 years old. He said he was the victim of a “beat-down” so severe that it resulted in a traumatic brain injury in 1996 or 1997 and left him on Supplemental Security Income and the inability to hold a job.
St. Louis County prosecutor Vern Swanum asked Thunberg to identify Barnes in the courtroom. The witness shook his head and breathed a loud sigh before pointing his finger at the defendant.
The shooting incident that left Cooney dead started as a dispute over one of the Thunberg’s family dogs — a Pekingese. The family also has two pit bulls, Thunberg said.
A neighbor told him that a man had threatened to harm his Pekingese, Cassinova, who was barking in the backyard, Thunberg testified. In a lighter moment in the trial, the witness said his barking dog was acting tough, “trying to be a pit.’’
Thunberg said he got into an altercation with the man who threatened his dog and he was punched once in the eye. He was going to get his pit bull “Champ’’ to have those who were threatening him “torn up.’’ Police responded and defused the incident until it started again a couple of hours later.
Thunberg stood up from the witness stand to describe how he saw Barnes firing the gun. He put his right hand behind his back and said “He [Barnes] was running. He was just shooting backwards while running.’’
But the witness said he didn’t know what a muzzle flash was and didn’t see any light coming from the gun in the dark. Swanum asked him where the defendant was shooting. “Toward that big crowd,’’ Thunberg testified.
Thunberg said he never threatened to shoot the man who threatened his dog and that he doesn’t own a gun, despite what other witnesses told police.
Defense attorney Keith Shaw attempted to discredit Thunberg by having Thunberg admit he has been convicted of a felony controlled-substance crime. Shaw also pointed out several inconsistencies and lies in the witness’s first statements to police. Thunberg first told police that he didn’t see Barnes in that alley and that neither he nor Barnes had gone down the alley.
The witness was extremely hard to hear during his testimony and he had to be reminded by Judge David Johnson and Swanum to speak up or repeat his answers.
It will be up to the jury to decide how much weight to give Thunberg’s testimony. It was impossible to know as he testified whether his brain injury affected his ability to remember or articulate details, or whether he was afraid to tell the truth.
Shaw suggested to jurors that Thunberg simply might not remember what happened that night, or that he is concocting a story because he feared police threats that he and his wife would go to prison if they didn’t provide the information police were looking for.
Swanum asked Thunberg if what he was telling jurors today was true. He said it was.
Thunberg’s wife, Katrina, is expected to take the witness stand this afternoon.