District judge dismisses Gil Barber’s killer

by Amy Kingsley

When Jessie Barber, Butch Stewart and their attorney Al McSurely heard their last-minute mediation session with representatives from the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department was cancelled, they presumed it meant bad news.

So an hour before District Judge James Beaty handed down his decision dismissing Stewart and Jessie Barber’s lawsuit on June 29, the team gathered around a table outside the courthouse to talk about the next step. They had 30 days from the date of the decision to decide whether to appeal the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.

It wasn’t the first time the trio has had to regroup after a legal setback, Stewart said.

‘“We’ve had a couple of other little bumps in the road,’” he said.

Stewart and Jessie Barber embarked on their legal odyssey more than five years ago, after Thomas Gordy, a deputy with the Guilford County Sheriff’s office, shot and killed their son Gilbert Barber. The shooting followed a confusing set of events that included a car crash, a break-in at a nearby church and the loss of Gilbert Barber’s clothing.

In the 25-page opinion, Judge Beaty said the plaintiffs had not provided enough evidence refuting Gordy’s version of the events. Gordy and several witnesses said Gilbert Barber charged the deputy twice before he was killed. Gordy suffered two gunshot wounds to the leg from his own gun during the confrontation.

McSurely said some of the factual evidence was still in dispute, including the distance between Gordy and Gilbert Barber when the shooting took place. Some of the witnesses also had ties to the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department, he said.

‘“I thought we made a good case,’” McSurely said.

He advised his clients to wait a few days before making a decision about appealing the case. Jessie Barber and Stewart, who have so far waged their battle largely with donated money, will have to raise more to take their case to the next level. But Stewart, who said the justice system protects law enforcement officers, thinks a jury trial would be worth the trouble.

‘“If it sounds like there’s even a slight chance that it will get heard in front of a jury then we’re going to appeal it,’” Stewart said.