A romantic beach setting has a violent ending for one married couple.
It was an August night in upscale Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., when 911 operators received a call: A husband and a wife had been shot.
Justin Barber, 30, was slumped over in his sport utility vehicle, shot four times, but still breathing. April Barber, 26, was miles down the road on a deserted beach, a single bullet wound to her left cheek.
Sheriff's deputies responded to the scene.
"We were using flashlights. We walked across the walkway down to the beach where we observed April's body," former Sheriff Neil Perry said.
April Barber was pronounced dead on the scene. Justin Barber was airlifted to a nearby trauma center and treated for his wounds, one to his right chest, one to each shoulder, and one straight through his left hand.
Barber told police that he and his wife, both originally from Oklahoma, had gone out to celebrate their third anniversary. After dinner and a few games of pool, they decided to take a romantic stroll on a desolate beach.
"We'd been there before, and it's just a place we go to be alone," he said. He said they slipped off their shoes and walked along the water's edge.
According to Barber, a man wearing a cap stepped out of the darkness, demanding money. Barber says the man waved a small pistol.
"He was pointing the gun at us. I heard one shot and then I was struggling with the man, and I didn't hear the other shots," Barber said.
He told investigators that he blacked out, and when he came to, his wife was missing.
"I was yelling her name and looking for her up and down the beach," he said. "I found her in the water at the water's edge. … There was a hole on her face."
Barber said he struggled to drag April to the car, but dropped her near the boardwalk, too weak to go any farther.
"I knew that I was hurt. I didn't know how badly," he said.
Barber said he had no cell phone on him, so he ran to the highway and stood in the middle of the lane trying to flag down help, to no avail.
"They slowed and went around me, but they didn't stop," he tearfully recalled.
He climbed into his car and drove with his hazard lights flashing in search of help. After almost 10 miles, he stopped.
Barber was bandaged up and released from the hospital the next day. He was back to Oklahoma in time for April's funeral.
Seemed Like the Perfect Couple
The couple, both from small Oklahoma towns, had been together for four years. They married in the Bahamas in 1999, in front of just a few close friends and relatives.
"There's a picture of Justin and April on the beach and just how ironic would it be that that's where they started their life together and that's where her life ended," said Patricia Parrish, April's aunt.
April's young life had already been marked by tragedy. The oldest of three children, she lost her mother, Nancy, to cancer when April was in high school. April assumed a maternal role for her younger sister Julie and brother Kendon.
"She was my best friend, my sister and my mother," said Julie, remembering the big sister who loved to shop and eat Mexican food. "She was very funny and there was never a dull moment when we were together."
Despite the added responsibilities at home, April finished second in her high school class. To honor her mother, she entered the field of radiology and became a technician helping to treat cancer patients. She was studying for her master's degree when she died.
Barber, too, was a hometown hero. A top athlete and the valedictorian of his high school class, he made his mother proud by earning an master's in business administration and a high-paying job as a business analyst.
"A very responsible man," said Justin's mother. Linda. That life Barber had built would soon change.
In Ponte Vedra Beach, investigators were searching for clues in April's slaying. They combed the beach and the surrounding brush, but came up empty.
Even Barber helped. Nine days after the killing, he accompanied investigators to the beach to re-enact the crime as he remembered it.
Investigators were growing suspicious of his version of events, though.
"His story did not match the facts," said Perry, who was one of the first to respond to the crime scene.
Perry said there was no evidence of a third person on the beach that night. Perry added that the drag marks on the beach were not consistent with Barber's explanation of how he had tried to carry April to safety. Investigators, however, did not have enough to make an arrest.
Barber moved to Oregon and began dating a new woman. He remained the prime suspect in April's killing.
Investigators had developed a theory -- Barber had shot April, then shot himself to make it look like a mugging gone wrong.
As investigators began to dig into his life, they learned that he had been an unfaithful husband to April and was in serious debt.
"He lost 50 grand in the stock market, cheated on his wife five times. That's a big risk, at least where I come from," said Detective Howard Cole, the lead investigator on the case.
In sworn affidavits, friends and family told investigators that just before her slaying, April was talking about divorce and moving back to Oklahoma.
"She [April] goes so far as to look for real estate and call for a job," Cole said.
Love or Money?
Detectives also discovered that the couple had taken out life insurance policies on each other.
Barber would be the beneficiary of more than $2 million in the event of April's death -- something that would not be payable if the couple divorced.
"She leaves him, he don't get the $2 million. That's the bottom line," Cole said.
A forensic examination of Barber's computer turned up other stunning clues, including a record of Internet searches six months before the slaying for things like "Florida divorce" and "trauma cases gunshot right chest" -- exactly where he had been shot on the beach that August night.
A final clue was left behind just hours before April's slaying -- 16 songs downloaded to Barber's computer including one by Guns 'N Roses called: "I Used to Love Her but I Had to Kill Her."
The People vs. Justin Barber
Finally, in July 2004, almost two years after April's death, a grand jury indicted Barber on first degree murder charges, although most of the evidence in the case was circumstantial.
"There is no direct evidence that he shot her. None. Zero," said Robert Willis, Barber's defense attorney.
Barber's defense team argued that his story was entirely believable and said that investigators had failed to pursue leads that pointed to other suspects.
Prosecutors said there was no other possible killer.
"No other suspect did emerge, because the phantom does not exist," said state attorney Matthew Foxman.
Barber never took the stand in his defense, but in an interview tearfully told "20/20" that he was innocent.
"I did not kill April. I could not do such a thing. I didn't kill her."
After four days of deliberations, the jury reached a guilty verdict. Jurors recommended that Barber be sentenced to death for the premeditated murder of his wife.
Barber plans to appeal and says he is convinced that the April's killer is still at large.
April's family, still deeply mourning her loss, is just as convinced that the jury convicted the right man for her violent murder.
"I have no doubt that he is the one who murdered April," Parrish said.