MARTINEZ -- Nearly three dozen relatives and friends of Shelby Barnes packed a courtroom Monday as the man who masterminded her savage murder over the deed to a bank-owned Concord house that they shared accepted a plea deal of first-degree murder and a prison sentence of 25 years to life.
Approximately two dozen letters were read to the court, either by their authors or on behalf of people who could not be present. All mourned Barnes as a vivacious, personable young woman, and all urged that Donald Paul Waldecker, who sat virtually motionless about 10 feet away from a poster-sized photo of Barnes dressed in a cheerleader outfit, be sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
"Your heart breaks for the family," prosecutor Jason Peck said. "They're angry and frustrated at Waldecker, and I understand it. It's not misdirected."
The plea agreement, he said, was a result of concerns over Waldecker's plea of not guilty by reason of insanity -- two court-appointed mental health experts had found him sane, but a third doctor disagreed -- and whether his confession to Concord police would be admissible as evidence in a trial.
"Twenty-five to life is the normal punishment you get for first-degree murder," Peck said. "It's a severe sentence."
Waldecker devised an ill-considered plan to kill Barnes and assume ownership of the Concord house in which they were living -- unaware that the house, once owned by Barnes' father, was in foreclosure. According to Waldecker's confession, he kicked the 4-foot-10 Barnes down the basement stairs, bludgeoned her head with a table leg and slit her throat.
Randi Dees, a Richmond woman, and Johnathan Harriel, of Concord, were charged as accomplices.
Monday's proceedings began with a video that showed Barnes maturing from a child into a 21-year-old woman. Speaker after speaker recalled her distinctive laugh and the way she saw the good in everyone. Many referenced Waldecker's violent actions that left Barnes unrecognizable.
Sniffles and stifled sobs were audible in the quiet courtroom.
A surprise speaker was Charlene Barnes, Shelby's mother, who approached the lectern saying, "I wasn't going to talk, but now I am."
Barnes called her daughter "my gift from God," and had harsh words for Waldecker, who could be eligible for parole after 23 years.
"I'm offended by the fact that he's sitting there twiddling his thumbs," she said. "There's no remorse. Please don't let him do this to anyone else."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.