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Barbara Elaine DALTON





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Love triangle
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 23, 2002
Date of arrest: July 10, 2003
Date of birth: 1960
Victim profile: Donna Sanders (her romantic rival)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Mansfield, Newton County, Georgia, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole on July 15, 2004

Barbara Dalton Found Guilty

July 16, 2004

A Newton County jury deliberated less than four hours Wednesday before finding Barbara Elaine Dalton "guilty" of felony murder and other charges. On Thursday morning the same jury sentenced her to life in prison without parole.

Ms. Dalton of Newton County is accused of murdering Donna Sanders of Monticello at 1334 Dixie Road in Mansfield on May 23, 2002.

The trial got underway Monday afternoon in the newly built Newton County Judicial Center in downtown Covington.

Ms. Dalton is charged with first degree murder, aggravated assault, cruelty to children, and possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime. It is a case that could possibly spell the death penalty for Ms. Dalton.

Newton County prosecutor Ken Wynne had the floor most of the afternoon, calling seven witnesses in the four and a half hour session. Victim Donna Sanders' son, Wesley Sanders, gave his testimony.

He started off by answering Mr. Wynne's question about the relationship between Ms. Dalton and Ms. Sanders. Wesley said that Ms. Sanders was dating Mark Sullivan, Ms. Dalton's ex-boyfriend.

According to Wesley, on May 23, 2002, Wesley was getting off the school bus at his house on Highway 11 North when he saw Ms. Dalton standing by a group of trees to the left of the driveway. He said that he didn't know her but figured that she was a friend of his mother's.

Ms. Dalton asked him "Can you run?" and they ran up the driveway and hid behind the house until Ms. Sanders arrived from work.

The two women went into the kitchen and Wesley went into his room to let them talk. The three of them left the house in Ms. Sanders' F-150, driving down Tabernacle Cemetery Road in south Newton County. They all got out of the truck and Wesley realized Ms. Dalton was carrying a gun.

Wesley said his mother looked scared and he heard her say "Don't shoot me in front of Wesley."

They then got back in the truck, Ms. Dalton driving, and rode to Ms. Dalton's son's house on Dixie Road in Mansfield. Brian Dean (Ms. Dalton's son) had some friends over when they arrived. Ms. Dalton asked the friends to leave and told Mr. Dean they needed to talk.

Mr. Dean testified he was confused by the situation.

Wesley said they talked for a while and eventually Mr. Dean asked Ms. Sanders if she was scared. Ms. Sanders said she was scared. Her keys were lying on the coffee table, and when Mr. Dean reached for them Ms. Dalton pulled the gun and shot Ms. Sanders in the forehead.

Mr. Dean grabbed Wesley and ran to his neighbors, the Volkarts' house to call the police while Ms. Dalton ran to Ms. Sanders' truck and left.

Fresh off the plane from Iraq, Ms. Dalton's 26-year-old son took the stand Monday afternoon in his dress greens to testify against his mother. It was an emotional testimony as Mr. Dean said, "she just shot her right in front of me."

His story did not vary much from Wesley's, but he added that after he got off the phone with the 911 operator he called Mr. Sullivan to warn him of the situation.

Dennis Volkart was next on the stand, starting off by saying that he did know Mr. Dean but not Ms. Dalton. At the time of the murder, he said he heard screams come from next door. He let Wesley and Mr. Dean in as they ran to his house, got his gun, locked the door, and told Wesley that no one was going to harm him.

He described Mr. Dean as confused and anxious, but said that Wesley seemed so calm it was like he was in shock. His wife Ermie Jean Volkart took the stand next. She described the screams as "animal howls." Mrs. Volkart was the first to talk to 911 before handing the phone to Mr. Dean.

Mr. Sullivan gave his first of two testimonies next. He said that he and Ms. Dalton had been in a relationship for about 14 years and he got out of it because he was no longer satisfied with the relationship.

On the day of the murder, Mr. Sullivan had made an appointment at a tanning bed in Covington for him and Ms. Sanders. He was immediately worried when Ms. Sanders didn't show up, saying that she was very punctual and rarely late to work or for any type of appointment.

He left the tanning bed in Covington headed for Ms. Sanders' home, but when he got to Pony Express he saw Ms. Sanders' truck being driven by Ms. Dalton. Mr. Sullivan immediately knew something was wrong. He found a spot to turn the truck around, but they were already gone and out of sight.

Mr. Sullivan called the police and drove to the property he and Ms. Dalton had purchased on Hodges Circle when they were together. It was at that time he received the call from Mr. Dean.

Ms. Dalton's older brother, Wayne Dalton, took the stand. After the murder, he went to Ms. Dalton's house with his mother, but it was locked and she would not let them in. His mother had a key to the house and they went in.

Ms. Dalton walked them to the back porch, and when Wayne asked her what was going on she said, while swinging a gun, "I've done something very bad, and it's too late to talk about it."

Several other witnesses were interviewed the rest of the day by Mr. Wynne.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Wynne recalled Mr. Sullivan. Towards the end of their relationship, Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Dalton purchased a piece of property on Hodges Circle, he said.

One afternoon when arriving in Covington from a trip to Myrtle Beach with Ms. Sanders and Wesley, they drove by his parents' house to drop off his things. His parents were on vacation in Florida. Ms. Sanders and Wesley left, and after Mr. Sullivan had been inside for a while he heard the door open and saw Ms. Dalton walk in.

Mr. Sullivan said that Ms. Dalton pulled a gun, and told him to drop the lawsuit he had filed to gain possession of the property they owned. They went to the office of Michael Waters' (the attorney Mr. Sullivan had filed the suit with), and Mr. Sullivan told him to drop the law suit.

Mr. Waters said that it was not that simple, and Ms. Dalton became agitated with the situation.

They rode back to Mr. Sullivan's parents' house, and he ran inside, called the police, got his gun, and locked the door. Ms. Dalton was arrested and was fired from her job at Stanley Product.

After a recess in the trial, Public Defender John Strauss began calling his witnesses. Lt. Gwen Hightower of the Newton County Sheriff's office was his first witness.

Lt. Hightower specializes in sexually abused children, children witnesses, and children interrogation. She interviewed Wesley after the homicide. She described Wesley as being cooperative but emotionally numb. She said that Wesley avoided the incident at Dixie Road and was more open about what happened before the shooting.

Trial observers who had heard the prosecution's case were anxiously anticipating Ms. Dalton's testimony. Ms. Dalton said that occasionally she would pass by Ms. Sanders' house on her way to Jackson to eat at a particular restaurant with her mother.

She noted that on one occasion she slowed down while passing the residence but it was only to show her mother where Mark was now staying.

She said that her romantic relationship ended with Mark in May, 2001, and she had no more feelings for him.

Regarding the incident at Mark's parents' house, she said that she did not pull a gun on Mr. Sullivan. She admitted there was a gun in her purse, but said that she always carried it for her personal protection.

The .38 caliber pistol she carried was taken from her boyfriend Joe Waters, the person she was in a relationship with after Mr. Sullivan. She said that she did not inform Mr. Waters of her possession of the gun, but she said that they were so close that he wouldn't mind that she had the gun.

She was also carrying her gun on May 23, but it was concealed in the waistband of her jeans instead of a purse. She went to Ms. Sanders' house to discuss the property dispute, she said, and parked her car a ways from the house because she was confused as to which house belonged to Ms. Sanders.

When Wesley arrived, they went up to the house and waited for Ms. Sanders. She arrived, and they all went inside. The two ladies had a glass of water in the kitchen while Wesley went to the back of the house, she testified.

They got in the truck and rode down Tabernacle Cemetery Road so Ms. Dalton could drive, because Ms. Sanders did not know where Mr. Dean lived.

Ms. Dalton said she noticed the unknown cars in the driveway and saw that he had friends over.

She got him to ask them to leave, and introduced him to Donna and Wesley Sanders. She said she has no recollection of what happened after that.

An emotionally distraught Ms. Dalton then went through a period of vicious cross-examination by Mr. Wynne.

Mr. Wynne called one final witness Tuesday afternoon, Joe Waters.

He said he had been involved in a romantic relationship with Ms. Dalton that ended maybe three months before the homicide.

He said he had a silver .38 caliber pistol and a black ankle holster that were misplaced and he had no clue where they went. The gun and holster were in Ms. Dalton's possession at the time of the arrest.

Mr. Waters said that it would "absolutely have not been all right for her to have the gun without my permission."

The trial came to closing statements Wednesday morning and went to the jury about lunchtime.


Supreme Court of Georgia


No. S07A0955.

July 13, 2007

Teresa Lynn Smith, Anthony Scott Carter, Covington, for appellant.W. Kendall Wynne, Jr., Dist. Atty., Covington, Thurbert E. Baker, Atty. Gen., David Allan Zisook, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

Barbara Elaine Dalton was charged in a multi-count indictment with malice murder, aggravated assault, and other offenses arising from the kidnapping and shooting death of Donna Sanders (hereafter “Sanders”), and the kidnapping of Sanders' ten-year-old son, Wesley Sanders (hereafter “Wesley”).1  The State provided notice of its intention to seek the death penalty.   The case was tried to a jury which found the existence of two statutory aggravating circumstances and fixed a sentence of life without parole.   Dalton was sentenced accordingly.

On appeal, Dalton concedes that she “shot and killed Donna Sanders, the girlfriend of appellant's former boyfriend ․ without provocation, in the presence of the sons of both appellant and Sanders.”   She asserts, however, that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt either statutory aggravating circumstance which would support her sentence of life without parole, and that the trial court erred in denying a motion to suppress evidence seized from her vehicle.   For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence showed that Barbara Dalton had been in a 14-year romantic relationship with Mark Sullivan, which Sullivan had terminated.   Thereupon, Sullivan began dating Sanders and he eventually moved into Sanders' home.   On the day in question, 10-year-old Wesley arrived home from school to find Dalton waiting beside his driveway.   Dalton told Wesley to wait with her at the back of the house for his mother to return home.   Sanders arrived at the house several minutes later, and shortly thereafter, Dalton, Sanders, and Wesley left in Sanders' truck.   Sanders drove to a rural cemetery road and stopped the vehicle.   Dalton ordered Sanders to continue to drive further down the road, but Sanders refused.   Thereupon, all three exited the truck and stood at the back bumper.   As Wesley was hugging his mother he observed a gun in Dalton's hand with her finger on or near the trigger;  both he and Sanders were terrified.   Sanders implored Dalton not to shoot her in the presence of her son.   She also told Dalton that she had an appointment and asked to leave, but Dalton refused to allow her to go.   The three reentered the truck with Dalton at the wheel, and she drove to the home of her son, Brian Dean.

Dean observed his mother arrive in an unfamiliar truck which she uncharacteristically parked at the rear of the house.   Dalton, Sanders and Wesley entered Dean's home and went to the living room.   Dean had friends visiting and Dalton directed that he ask his friends to leave.   She then introduced Sanders to Dean as the woman “Mark has been living with for the last couple of months.”   Dean became alarmed, grabbed Dalton and asked her, “What's going on?   You haven't done anything crazy [or] stupid?”   Dalton responded, “No, we're just here to talk.”   When Sanders told Dean that she was frightened, he attempted to reach for the keys to the truck which Dalton had placed on a coffee table.   At that point, Dalton produced a gun, shot Sanders in the head, and then fled from the house.   Dean grabbed Wesley, who appeared to be in shock, and ran to a neighbor's house where the shooting was reported to the police.

After determining Dalton's guilt, the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of two statutory aggravating circumstances as set forth in OCGA § 17-10-30, as follows:  (1) the offense of murder was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of another capital felony, to wit:  kidnapping with bodily injury, OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(2);  and (2) the offense of murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind, OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(7).   The jury fixed the sentence at life imprisonment without parole.2

1. The evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Dalton was guilty of the crimes for which she was convicted.  Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979).

2. Dalton contends that the evidence is insufficient to prove the OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(2) aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt, to wit:  that the offense of murder was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of another capital felony, the kidnapping and bodily injury of Donna Sanders.

“A person commits the offense of kidnapping when he [or she] abducts or steals away any person without lawful authority or warrant and holds such person against his [or her] will.”  OCGA § 16-5-40(a).   The offense of kidnapping with bodily injury is a capital felony that may be considered as an aggravating circumstance supporting a death sentence for murder.  Tharpe v. State, 262 Ga. 110, 115(22)(b), 416 S.E.2d 78 (1992);  OCGA § 16-5-40(b).  See also Sears v. State, 270 Ga. 834(4), 514 S.E.2d 426 (1999).   Bodily injury occurs when any physical injury, however slight, is inflicted upon the victim's body.  Smith v. State, 236 Ga. 5, 10(5), 222 S.E.2d 357 (1976);  Green v. State, 193 Ga.App. 894(1), 389 S.E.2d 358 (1989).

Viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence established that Sanders was taken from her home and held at gunpoint by Dalton, that Sanders urged Dalton to allow her to leave for an appointment, but Dalton refused.   Instead, Dalton drove Sanders and Wesley to Dean's home where Dalton shot and killed Sanders.

We reject Dalton's contention that Wesley's testimony was “unquestionably impeached” because he initially stated in an interview hours after his mother's death that Dalton produced the gun at Dean's home rather than at the cemetery road.   A clinical psychologist explained that a child who is traumatized may need time to sort out the events he witnessed and would not be expected to disclose all the details immediately after the trauma.  “It is within the province of the jury to resolve conflicts in trial testimony and assess the credibility of the witnesses.”  Berry v. State, 268 Ga. 437, 438(1), 490 S.E.2d 389 (1997).   The jury, upon proper instructions from the court, assessed the credibility of Wesley's testimony and concluded that a kidnapping had occurred.  Id.

We find ample evidence from which any rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant was guilty of kidnapping with bodily harm.  Jackson v. Virginia, supra;  Tharpe, supra;  Sears, supra.   See also George v. State, 192 Ga.App. 840(1), 386 S.E.2d 669 (1989) (a demand by the victim to be let out of the vehicle may assist the jury in determining that the victim is being held against his will).

3. Dalton contends that her actions lack the aggression necessary to support the OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(7) aggravating circumstance that the offense of murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind.

This issue is controlled by our ruling in McMichen v. State, 265 Ga. 598(2), 458 S.E.2d 833 (1995).   McMichen shot and killed his estranged wife and her boyfriend outside her trailer.   As the two bodies lay on the ground bleeding profusely, the defendant took his five-year-old daughter (the child of the female victim) from her mother's trailer, walked her past both bodies through the victims' blood, and left the child in his truck in view of the murder scene while he sat at a neighbor's home drinking beer.   When the child was found a short time later, she was still in the truck with blood on her shoes, screaming for help for her mother.   In that case we considered whether the defendant's conduct toward his child in the course of killing the victims, knowing but not intending that his actions would cause the child severe mental distress, is alone sufficient to prove the (b)(7) aggravating circumstance of depravity of mind to support a sentence of death.   We concluded that the defendant's “gross disregard for the virtually certain and profound impact of his actions on his five-year-old child amply supports the jury's finding that the murder of [the child's mother] was outrageously and wantonly vile, horrible and inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind.”  Id. at 603(2), 458 S.E.2d 833.

In the present case, Wesley was himself a victim of kidnapping along with his mother, he witnessed his mother plead with Dalton to spare her life while her son watched, and he was sitting next to his mother on a sofa when Dalton fired the fatal shot to her head.   We find the evidence sufficient to enable the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of the (b)(7) statutory aggravating circumstance of depravity of mind.  Jackson v. Virginia, supra;  McMichen, supra.

4. On the day following the shooting, investigators obtained a warrant to search Dalton's car, which was still parked a short distance from the driveway where Dalton first confronted Sanders and Wesley.   Among the items seized from the vehicle were a machete, two rifles, ammunition, hunting equipment, and an ankle holster.   Dalton filed a motion to suppress the fruits of the search asserting, inter alia, that the warrant was issued without probable cause.   The trial court denied the motion based, in part, on its determination that there was sufficient probable cause to issue the warrant.

A search warrant will only issue upon facts “sufficient to show probable cause that a crime is being committed or has been committed.” OCGA § 17-5-21(a).   The magistrate's task in determining if probable cause exists to issue a search warrant is “simply to make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, including the ‘veracity’ and ‘basis of knowledge’ of persons supplying hearsay information, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.”  [Cit.] Our duty in reviewing the magistrate's decision in this case is to determine if the magistrate had a “substantial basis” for concluding that probable cause existed to issue the search warrants.  [Cit.] A magistrate's decision to issue a search warrant based on a finding of probable cause is entitled to substantial deference by a reviewing court.

DeYoung v. State, 268 Ga. 780, 786-787, 493 S.E.2d 157 (1997).

The investigating officer testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress that he prepared an affidavit for the issuance of a warrant to search a Lincoln Town Car registered to Dalton, which was parked 780 feet from the Sanders' driveway.   The affidavit included information that Sanders and Wesley had been abducted from their home in Jasper County and were taken to a residence in Newton County where Dalton shot and killed Sanders.   Based on that information, a warrant was issued which authorized a search of Dalton's vehicle for latent print evidence, and evidence of the crime of kidnapping.

Looking to the four corners of the affidavit, there was a fair probability that evidence of the kidnapping and murder would be found in the vehicle parked near the Sanders' driveway.   Thus, we conclude that the magistrate had a substantial basis for determining that probable cause existed for issuance of the warrant.3

Judgment affirmed.


1.   The crimes were committed on May 23, 2002.   A grand jury indicted Dalton on July 11, 2003, charging her with malice murder, felony murder (seven counts), aggravated assault (five counts), cruelty to children in the first degree, and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony (three counts).   The State served notice of its intent to seek the death penalty.   At a trial commencing on July 12, 2004, Dalton was tried on the foregoing charges, except for four of the felony murder counts.   She was found guilty as charged on July 15, 2004.   The jury also found beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of two statutory aggravating circumstances, and it affixed a sentence of life without parole.   Dalton was sentenced on August 26, 2004 to life without parole for malice murder, 20 years for one count of aggravated assault, 20 years for cruelty to children, plus 5 years for each of two weapon offenses (all sentences to run consecutively to each other).   A motion for new trial was filed on September 22, 2004, amended on January 18, 2005, and denied on December 29, 2006.   A notice of appeal was filed on February 2, 2007, pursuant to the grant of an out-of-time appeal.   The case was docketed in this Court on March 15, 2007, and was submitted for a decision on briefs on May 7, 2007.

2.   Under OCGA § 17-10-30.1(a), imprisonment for life without parole may not be imposed unless there is found by the court or jury at least one statutory aggravating circumstance as defined by OCGA § 17-10-30.

3.   Having concluded that probable cause existed for the issuance of the warrant, we need not address the trial court's alternative theories of inevitable discovery and abandonment for admitting evidence of the search.

THOMPSON, Justice.

All the Justices concur.


Barbara Elaine Dalton



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