Petty Officer 2nd Class Jimmy Barlow took the stand in his own defense Tuesday morning on Alameda’s Coast Guard Island, where he faces four counts of child endangerment following the death of his three year old daughter Eden Lynch more than six years ago. Eden’s death was ruled a homicide, caused by blunt force trauma. In low tones, sometimes crying, Barlow walked through the happy moments he had with Eden in the months they lived together in their Alameda apartment before her collapse and eventual death on September 3, 2011.
Barlow’s testimony began with an account of how he ended up with full custody of Eden in early 2011, which he called the best day of his life. Defense attorney and former Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Marine Corps Colby Vokey, displayed photographs from a camping trip, a visit to Vallejo’s Discovery Kingdom, and trips to the park to feed the ducks as Barlow described fond memories from those family events he shared with Eden between March and August of 2011.
Barlow cried while describing how he received a phone call from his then girlfriend, now wife, Holli Barlow, with the news that Eden had collapsed at their Alameda apartment while he was on duty at the base. Holli, who is facing similar criminal charges in Alameda County Superior Court for her suspected role in Eden’s death, told first responders that Eden had been acting strange all day before collapsing while playing with Play-Dough at the apartment Holli and Jimmy shared with their respective daughters from previous partners.
Barlow described Holli, who took care of her daughter and Eden while Jimmy was at work, as a loving caregiver who never lost her temper and was making him comfortable with fatherhood. When Vokey asked Barlow if he believed Holli harmed Eden in any way, Barlow responded, “I don’t.”
But during cross examination, Coast Guard prosecutors used a series of text messages to tell a different story. Lieutenant Commander Geralyn Van de Krol grilled Barlow about text messages that portrayed Holli as a hot-tempered partner who was under a great deal of stress and resented being the primary caretaker for Jimmy’s daughter.
“Something is wrong with me,” Holli wrote Jimmy in a text message on July 18th, 2011. “I feel like I’m constantly having an anxiety attack…like I can’t breathe and I’m nervous and anxious and I miss [my daughter] and you so bad.”
Days later, Holli texted Jimmy saying, “I have never experienced anxiety like this before.”
When Van de Krol asked Jimmy if he was concerned about Holli’s mental health, Jimmy said, “No, I was not.”
Van de Krol then read a text from Jimmy to Holli, which seemingly contradicted his testimony.
“I think you should go get a [prescription] for your anxiety, headaches, and whatever else or your nausea,” Jimmy wrote.
In a police interview played earlier in the trial, Jimmy told Alameda police detectives that Holli never lost her temper. But prosecutors used another series of text messages to cast doubt on Jimmy’s statement to police.
Prosecutors presented evidence indicating Jimmy and Holli got into an argument Wednesday, August 24, when Jimmy helped a female colleague move some furniture the day before while Holli was at home watching her daughter and Eden.
“She got pretty upset about that,” Barlow had told Vokey earlier in the day when he asked Jimmy about the incident.
During that argument, Jimmy said Holli dropped Eden off with Jimmy at the base and took her own daughter with her to Vallejo, where Holli’s mother lives. Later that day, Jimmy said Holli told him via text message that Eden had tumbled down the concrete steps in front of their apartment the previous day. Barlow said he noticed some bruises and scratches on Eden, but Eden was talking and she told Jimmy she felt fine.
Prosecutors asked Jimmy if he was surprised that Holli had handed off Eden to him personally at the base earlier that day without mentioning Eden’s fall down the stairs the previous day.
“I was,” Barlow responded.
Van de Krol then read a text that Jimmy wrote to Holli in response.
“F**k yeah I seen the bruise under the makeup,” Barlow wrote. “Wow her face deff (definitely) saved her from falling anymore.”
Van de Krol read additional text messages between Jimmy and Holli in an effort to show that Holli did in fact have a temper, despite Jimmy’s previous statements.
“Yes because a nice person lets their [girlfriend] stay up all night with anxiety while they sleep the night away and ignore the lies they’ve told,” Holli wrote Jimmy.
In another text, Holli wrote to Jimmy, “Because you’re a ‘Captain Save a Hoe’ [sic], well check this out. I will never sit at home watching your kid while you do favors for other females.”
“I’m pretty disgusted that someone thinks it’s OK to run errands with some girl while I sit at home watching their kid,” Holli texted Jimmy in another message.
Holli’s temper came up again during witness testimony about an incident at a bar the month before Eden collapsed while in Holli’s care on August 31, 2011.
“We were at a country bar and we were dancing and Holli told me that she got a drink thrown on her,” Jimmy told Van de Krol. “Holli got mad at me for not stepping in.”
When Van de Krol asked Jimmy if Holli had hit him in the face during that argument, he said, “I don’t remember her hitting me.”
Two friends of Holli’s friends, including a young woman named Ashley Horn, testified later in the afternoon that they were present during the country bar argument, and that Holli never physically assaulted Jimmy.
However, a text exchange between Holli and Horn the following morning seemed to show otherwise.
“Dude, Jimmy’s face is all bloody,” Holli texted Horn.
Horn wrote back, “Yeah, you beat him.”
The issue of discipline also became a major focus of Jimmy’s testimony.
Barlow, answering a question from Vokey, said he and Holli had an agreement that they would only spank their own child, but either parent could place either child on a timeout.
Jimmy told the court that he and Holli both used spankings as a form of discipline, but it was relatively uncommon and they only gave one or two “pops on the butt” when they did resort to spanking.
Under cross-examination, however, prosecutors read yet more text messages between Holli and Jimmy concerning spanking.
“You didn’t spank Eden before Eden came to live with you in August, did you?” Van de Krol asked.
“No, the [CPS] supervisor recommended I do not spank her,” Jimmy said.
Barlow also confirmed that during a 2010 mediation session, Jimmy agreed he would not engage in corporal punishment.
Van de Krol also asked Jimmy if Holli encouraged him to spank Eden. “I wouldn’t say that,” he responded.
But Van de Krol then read an August 2011 text message sent from Holli to Jimmy saying, “How about you just whoop her ass after?”
Later that month, the day before Eden collapsed, Holli told Jimmy via text message that Eden had choked herself with a necklace. This was the couple’s explanation for the bruises and scratches on Eden’s neck that medical staff documented upon her arrival at the hospital the following day.
“She’s on her bed for the rest of the day unless we go to the park,” Holli texted Jimmy. “She’s trying to be emo. She choked herself with a necklace again. No more necklaces.”
Records show Jimmy texted Holli back saying, “K, she sounds like she needs her daddy….to whoop that ass.”
Van de Krol also brought up another text exchange concerning spanking from the week prior, when Holli went to stay with her mom after the fight between Jimmy and Holli regarding his helping a female colleague move furniture.
“Good morning, I love you,” Jimmy texted. “I know the reasons for my actions are not what they should have [sic]. I’m going to move forward trying to be a better father than I was yesterday.”
Holli texted back, saying, “I can’t continue to be with someone who yells at their kid just so I will be happy.”
“It makes me upset that you spank Eden to make me happy.”
Following Barlow’s testimony, the defense team called two former neighbors of Jimmy and Holli, who testified they never heard the couple arguing and never saw any signs of abuse on Eden or Holli’s daughter.
The defense continued to call witnesses during a brief court session Wednesday that wrapped after about an hour. Holli’s brother Jesus de Alba testified his primary interaction with Eden was at a birthday party Holli and her mother Dianna de Alba threw for Holli’s daughter and Eden. The girls turned three on the same day in June. Jesus de Alba said Jimmy and Eden “were part of the family.” When attorney Vokey asked, “We’ve heard some allegations Holli was violent and abusive toward Eden, did you observe that?” De Alba answerd, “No. She was a great parent.”
Robert Elliott, Coast guard member and former roommate of Jimmy Barlow, testified he shared an apartment with Barlow in October of 2010 and that “Holli was there quite a bit.” He testified Holli “was a loving person. Everything was always tidy. Dinner was always cooked when I got home. Everyone was laid back.” He said she was excited about Jimmy working toward getting custody of his daughter. Elliott said he had an emotional visit with Jimmy in the hospital after Eden was admitted to the emergency room. “He came to me, his legs gave out, we slid to the ground and sat on the floor of the hallway for the next hour.”
Upon cross examination, Elliott said he moved out before Eden came to live with Jimmy and Holli in Alameda and that he never met Eden and did not observe Holli or Jimmy interacting with Eden. He told prosecutors, “I’m closer to Jimmy Barlow than my own brother.” When asked, “Did you say you believed it was ‘unfair’ that he was being tried” and “you were upset about NBC broadcasting information you thought was private?” Elliott answered, “Yes” to both questions.
Holli’s brother Jesus de Alba also testified about her parenting skills, saying on the occasions he observed Holli in July/August of 2011 that “both Eden and [Holli’s daughter] were really comfortable with Holli and Jimmy” and that Holli was “very interactive with the girls” providing them with reading and coloring books. He said Jimmy was the girls’ “bear they could come to and snuggle with if they were having a rough day.” He denied ever seeing his sister lose her temper or become violent.
Jesus de Alba told prosecutors the court martial has made his family “closer than ever” and “I feel there is a need for people to place the blame on something that might not need to be placed.”
The defense also called Taya de Alba to the stand and asked her to describe photos from when she was 13, after an athletic event where Eden was sitting on her lap. She said she did not see bruises or scratches on Eden. She said “Eden always wanted to be with Holli, she always asked for Holli.”
On cross examination, prosecutors asked Taya how many times she spoke to the defense counsel. She testified she didn’t remember. She also said she did not remember the government’s (prosecutors) attempts to contact her. She spoke about going to visit her sister Holli in Alaska for two weeks but that it was a “terrible time” because during her visit, Holli’s children were removed from her care.
The defense also called another friend and former roommate of Jimmy Barlow, petty officer Sean Spence. He testified he lived with Jimmy and Holli and their two kids for a few months between March and June of 2011 and that Jimmy purchased matching princess style beds and toys in preparation for Eden’s arrival after he was awarded custody.
He said during the first week, Eden was “very attached to Jimmy and shy-acting” and that she was “wetting the bed a lot. Jimmy was doing laundry every day.”
Spence said the couple was “very understanding” and he never observed anything that would cause him alarm.
The prosecution asked a few questions to establish the friendship between Jimmy and Spence, as well as their wives who all lived in Coast Guard housing in Kodiak, Alaska.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday at 8:30 a.m. The presiding judge, Captain Matthew Fay, instructed both sides to be ready to present their closing arguments and expect his ruling by the afternoon.