NEW BOSTON, Texas: Tonya Ruth Barnett, 42, initially claimed she shot Cecil Ellis Jr., 35, in self-defense as the two struggled over her cell phone May 24, 2018.
But after an autopsy report showing Ellis was shot in the back of the head was returned, a Bowie County grand jury indicted Barnett for murder.
A jury of eight women and four men was chosen Tuesday to decide the case. Opening statements and testimony are scheduled to begin Wednesday at the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston before 5th District Judge Bill Miller.
Barnett called police at 5:29 a.m. May 24, 2018, and reported to dispatchers that she’d shot someone who had been beating her, according to a probable cause affidavit. When deputies with the Bowie County Sheriff’s Office arrived, they found Ellis deceased on the floor of a bedroom in Barnett’s home on Parkway Lane.
Barnett allegedly claimed that Ellis was angry because she had broken up with him the day before. She reported that Ellis was banging on her door at about 5:20 a.m. and that after letting him in, the two began fighting over her phone. Barnett claimed that Ellis wanted to look through her phone and choked her until she passed out.
When she came to, Barnett claims she grabbed a handgun from her nightstand and ordered Ellis to leave. Barnett told investigators the gun “went off and shot Ellis in the head,” while the two were struggling over the phone.
After being confronted with the physical evidence revealed in the autopsy, Barnett’s story allegedly changed. Barnett allegedly told investigators in June 2018 that she pointed the gun at Ellis and pulled the trigger. She allegedly claimed that she had not handled the gun in some time and did not know a bullet was chambered. Barnett claimed she was just trying to scare Ellis.
Assistant District Attorney Katie Carter is prosecuting the case. Barnett is represented by the Bowie County Public Defender’s Office. If found guilty of murder, Barnett faces five to 99 years or life in prison.