Stephen Dale Barbee, 55, was executed by lethal injection on 16 November 2022 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a woman and her son in their home.
Lisa Underwood owned a bagel shop in Fort Worth. In the fall of 2003, she began having a personal relationship with Barbee, who had been a customer at the shop. Barbee was married. They stopped seeing each other at the end of 2003, and Underwood subsequently began dating another man. She was still seeing that man when she resumed her relationship with Barbee in July 2004. She then became pregnant. She informed both men about her pregnancy and told Barbee she believed he was the father.
Underwood's employee, Holly Pils, planned to host a baby shower for her at the bagel shop on Saturday, 18 February 2005. Pils testified that Underwood, 34, then seven months pregnant, stayed home from work the day before the shower because she had a cold. Underwood later told Pils that she was feeling better and was excited about the baby shower, and she planned to arrive at the bagel shop shortly before 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.
On Saturday at 3:00 a.m., Denton County Deputy Sheriff David Brawner stopped a man walking along the service road of Interstate Highway 35. It was cold and had been raining. Brawner testified that the man's clothes were "very wet" and that he was "covered in mud." When Brawner asked the man for identification, he said he had left his wallet at his friend's home nearby. He gave Brawner a false name and date of birth and then "took off running on foot" while Brawner was verifying it. He ran into a thickly wooded area. Brawner and other officers searched for several hours, but lost him.
Underwood failed to show up for the baby shower, and the police were contacted. They went to Underwood's house to investigate. There were no signs of forced entry. Neither Underwood nor her 7-year-old son, Jayden, were in the house. There was blood on an entertainment center, the walls, and other items in the living room. It appeared to police as if someone had attempted to clean and conceal a blood stain on the living room floor. Underwood's car was gone, and there was blood on the floor in the garage. Jayden's glasses were next to his bed.
An inspection of Underwood's home computer showed that she used it for about forty minutes around midnight.
On Tuesday, 21 February, Underwood's Dodge SUV was found in a creek near Interstate 35 in Denton County. The front end of the vehicle was submerged in the water, and the rest of it was sticking out. Some cleaning solution was in it, and Underwood's keys and purse were found nearby. The car was about 300 yards from the location of the encounter Deputy Brawner had with the unidentified man the morning that Underwood disappeared. Brawner subsequently identified Barbee as that man from a photo lineup.
Detectives Michel Carroll, John McCaskell, and Brian Jamison of the Fort Worth Police Department traveled to Tyler to speak with Barbee, then 37. They found him, his wife, Trish Barbee, and a co-worker, Ron Dodd, 33, in a Wal-Mart parking lot. After some initial conversation, they asked them to come to the Tyler Police Department for further questioning. There, Carroll and Jamison interviewed Barbee in one room, while McCaskell interviewed Dodd in another room.
Barbee stated that he worked cutting down trees on 19 February.* He drove home to Fort Worth that evening and then went to Dodd's house later that night to work on a truck that he and Dodd used as a business vehicle. He left Dodd's house at around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. When he arrived home, he slept on the couch so as to not wake his wife. Barbee acknowledged that he had dated Underwood and that she had informed him he might be her unborn child's father, but he claimed he had not seen or heard from her in a while. He eventually acknowledged being stopped by law enforcement in Denton County around 3:00 a.m., that he had given the officer a false name and date of birth, and that he ran away.
Officer Carroll then excused himself to go observe Officer McCaskell's interview with Dodd. Barbee subsequently opened the door and asked to use the men's room. Carroll testified that he and Barbee then had an unrecorded conversation lasting 45 to 60 minutes. He warned Barbee that Dodd was "going to lay this whole thing in [Barbee's] lap" and that "Lisa's family needed closure." Barbee told him that he and Dodd devised a plan to murder Underwood because "Lisa wanted to use his name on a birth certificate or she was trying to take money from him, she was going to ruin his family, his relationship with his wife, Trish, and he did not want that to happen."
Carroll testified Barbee told him that he dropped his car off at Dodd's house, and then Dodd drove him to Underwood's house and left. Barbee went inside and tried to "pick a fight" with her. He was unable to provoke a fight, so he called Dodd to pick him up. He later had Dodd drop him off again. This time, "he was able to get her upset enough that he could start a fight with her." He wrestled her to the ground and "held her face into the carpet until she stopped breathing." Jayden then came into the room, crying. Barbee walked up to him, placed his hand over his mouth and nose, and "held it there until he stopped breathing." Afterwards, he tried to clean up the house and cover a blood stain with a piece of furniture. He placed the bodies in Underwood's car and drove to a road off of Farm-to-Market Road 407. Using a shovel Dodd had given him, he buried both victims in a shallow grave and placed debris on top of it. He then drove Underwood's car to another location and "stopped it just short of the creek."
Carroll had Barbee locate the roads he had used and the site where the bodies were buried on a map. He then took him back into the interview room to make another recorded statement.
After Carroll finished his second interview with Barbee, he exited the interview room and told Trish Barbee that her husband had confessed to the murders and wanted to speak with her. She wanted to speak with him as well, so she went into the interview room. Carroll did not go in with them, but the recording equipment was on. Stephen told Trish that Underwood called and threatened him, so he went to her house to talk to her. He said Underwood was going to "ruin" him and that they fought. He said he "held her down too long" and "didn't mean for her to stop breathing."
Barbee spent that night in the Smith County Jail. The next morning, he rode with Carroll and another officer and directed them to the grave. Carroll testified that Dodd had already taken them to the same area, but the bodies were not located until Barbee went with them.
The medical examiner testified that Lisa Underwood was killed by "traumatic asphyxiation," most likely from being held down until she stopped breathing. Additionally, She had a broken arm, facial abrasions and contusions, and bruises on both sides of her back. At the time of her death, she was seven months pregnant. Jayden's death was caused by "asphyxia by smothering." He had a large bruise above his right temple "due to some sort of impact to the head." He had further bruises and abrasions on his back, arm, hip, and leg. He had bruises on his lips and gums that appeared to come from pressure being applied to his mouth.
DNA evidence showed that Barbee was not the father of Underwood's unborn child.
Theresa Barbee testified that she was married to Stephen Barbee from 1996 to 2003 and that she had physically assaulted her during the course of their relationship. During one of their fights, she suffered a "bad concussion." While she was bleeding and unconscious, Stephen sat in another room and ate ice cream. When she awoke, he made her drive herself to the hospital.
Theresa also testified that she was dating Ron Dodd at the time Lisa and Jayden Underwood were murdered. She stated that Dodd had been at her house on the night of Friday, 18 February. Dodd and Barbee left in Dodd's truck sometime after 10:00 p.m and Dodd returned home alone shortly after. As soon as he returned, Barbee called Dodd, and he left again. He returned with Barbee about 15 minutes later. At around 3:00 a.m., Barbee called Dodd. She heard Barbee say "come and help him" and that he ran out of gas. Dodd left, and Theresa went to sleep.
When Theresa next saw Stephen Barbee on Sunday morning, he cried and said that "his life was over with." He later called and said he had confessed to police. He told her "he didn't mean to" and that he went over to Underwood's to talk to her, but they got into a fight. Theresa asked him, "What about the boy?" He replied that "he didn't mean to" and "was just trying to keep him quiet." She asked if Dodd was involved. He said "Ron's mistake was in picking him up."
By the time Theresa visited her ex-husband in jail, he had become more defensive. She testified that Barbee kept changing his story and said he did not commit the murders. On another visit, Barbee held up a piece of paper asking her to say that Dodd was the killer and set him up. She started crying and left. Barbee then had Theresa removed from his visitors list.
At trial, Barbee's attorneys claimed his confession was "the product of fear and coercion" and noted the lack of physical or forensic evidence tying him to the crime.
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