The Dangerous Son

Mark Barnes Sits in a New York Jail, Accused of Murdering His Mother. Friends Back Home Think Steroids Made Him Do It.

In one of his studies, Pope recalls the tragic story of Jamie Fuller, a 16-year-old boy from Massachusetts who murdered his girlfriend in a steroid-fueled rage. Fuller had been a shy child with no serious behavioral or disciplinary problems, Pope says, until he began taking steroids at age 14. Over the next two years, he gained 50 pounds and increased his bench press from 120 to 265. Fuller also suffered from extreme bouts of depression and rage. On August 23, 1991, he lured his 14-year-old girlfriend, whom he suspected of flirting and possibly sleeping with other boys, into the woods. Fuller told her he loved her, then plunged a knife into her stomach, back, and throat. When she lay gurgling on the ground, Fuller silenced his victim by stomping on her throat.

Fuller's attorneys told the jury the boy's judgment had been clouded by steroids. His mood swings were so dramatic, they said, Fuller once attempted suicide by ingesting whiskey and aspirin after discovering a pimple on his face. Despite their arguments, he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

Barnes's initial criminal acts were comparatively minor. In 1989, a then 19-year-old Barnes was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. Between 1990 and 1995, Barnes was arrested nine times for a string of alleged offenses: violation of privacy, disorderly conduct, operating an unregistered vehicle, possession of marijuana, and assault. He was found guilty in five of the nine cases.

One court-appointed attorney remembers Barnes acting bizarrely. "He would sit there without saying a word and try to intimidate you," says Lawrence Lunn. "He would squint his eyes, make bizarre faces, and laugh at inappropriate times. It was frightening, really. Here was this huge guy and you didn't know what he was going to do. He was like a character out of a Stephen King book."

For much of that period, Barnes worked sparingly, grossing between $200 and $900 per month. In court records, Barnes indicated he neither owned nor rented real estate property, had no vehicle registered to his name, and owned no personal property. He was living with his mother, and paying rent only when he could afford it. Most of his time was spent in the gym. "He would scream and holler when he lifted the weights," remembers Jon Cota. "His legs were huge—I mean, tree trunks. When he put the weight on the rack you thought the rack was just going to fall. He was so into it I don't know if he knew anyone was around. This kid was just a machine."

While Barnes grew stronger, his mother's health failed. After the death of her husband, Barbara Barnes had suffered a heart attack. She sold the house and moved into a trailer in neighboring Old Town. She saw a therapist and took antidepressants, muscle relaxers, and blood pressure pills. She still waitressed at Pat's, but only as an excuse to get a break from her son.

During the three years he shared her trailer, Mark was often unemployed and seldom went out. He brooded and paced, wearing sunglasses and a sweatshirt inside and talking crazily of aliens. At night, he crept into his mother's bedroom, waking her with obscenities and threats of violence. Barbara locked herself in her room for days. Her friends stopped visiting. She wanted her son to move out, but knew he had nowhere to go.

On the afternoon of March 5, 1998, Barnes was in a particularly foul mood. Without saying where he was headed, he stormed out of the trailer and disappeared. To protect herself, Barbara Barnes rose from a kitchen stool and locked the sliding glass door. But her son was already on his way back. He pulled angrily at the door, then darted out of sight. Barbara Barnes raced toward an open window in the bedroom. When she arrived, he had already climbed through. Barnes slammed his diminutive mother against the wall and pulled her by the hair when she ran for the phone.

She tried to flee the trailer, screaming that she was going to the police. She was through taking care of him, she said, and would finally have him thrown out. Inexplicably, Barnes let her go. Through tears, Barbara Barnes saw the face of her son pressed up against the window, mouthing, "I'm going to kill you, you bitch."

Barnes was convicted of assault. He served 35 days of a one-year jail sentence and was forbidden from returning to his mother's trailer, even to pick up his belongings. The remainder of his sentence was suspended on the condition that he undergo psychiatric evaluation and follow any treatment recommended. Barbara, who paid her son's $800 bail, asked that Barnes receive psychiatric treatment for mental illness rather than serve time in jail. Barnes was indignant at the suggestion.

"She don't want me around anymore," Barnes told the court. "That's good. But as far as the psych goes . . . I've never been to no counseling. So, you know, I think it's a little—it looks stupid for her to tell—tell you that I need it and she's going through it plenty, more than enough for all of us. It's kind of stupid."

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