Nearly 25 years after she was sentenced to life in prison without parole for arranging the murder of her ex-husband outside his Santa Clara home, Judith Barnett is a free woman. Barnett was released from a prison in Chowchilla on the morning of Oct. 16.
“I had this little alarm that went off in my head this morning,” said Barnett’s adopted daughter Marie Witkin on the morning of Barnett’s release. “This alarm went off in my head, she’s getting out.”
Witkin says nearly four decades later she’s still sick to her stomach with what Barnett did.
“My father doesn’t have a life and she shouldn’t be having a life either,” said Witkin. “Part of me really wanted to stand at that [prison] gate and say, ‘Hey, now that it’s you and me, face to face, with nobody around but you and me and the man upstairs, tell me to my face. For once don’t lie and say what you did and I’m just going to walk away.’ I want her to admit it to my face.”
Barnett’s second husband, Robert Singer, was initially convicted of hiring someone to murder Howard Witkin in the spring of 1980. Witkin was gunned down outside his townhome in Santa Clara.
Singer was convicted in the murder for hire case, but found out in prison that Barnett was having an affair with his lawyer. Singer asked for a new trial and was granted one. During his new trial, Singer agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors and told them Barnett was the one who told him to get rid of her ex-husband.
Barnett was later convicted of being the mastermind behind the murder for hire plot. In 1994, she was sentenced to life in prison without parole. That sentence was changed to 27 years to life when then Governor Jerry Brown commuted her sentence in November of 2018.
In June of this year, the Parole Board granted her request for parole.
As a condition of parole, Barnett is not allowed to have contact with any members of the Witkin family, including her children.
Barnett told the Parole Board she would be staying with a friend in Central California when she was released, but she would like to move back to Detroit, where she’s from.
“I really want to go home and home is Michigan. And I don’t know how long it will take till I can do that or if I can get the parole officer to allow me to transfer,” Barnett told the Parole Board during her June 4 hearing.
Barnett is wheelchair-bound and in poor health. She told the Parole Board she hopes doctors at the University of Ann Arbor Harbor Hospital could help her get healthy enough to get out of the wheelchair.
She also told the Parole Board, there’s a lot she needs to learn if she returns to society.
“I need to learn technology. I need to reestablish ties with people that I care about,” said Barnett at her June 4 parole hearing. “I need to find a place to live other than my sister’s. I know I’m welcome there, but I have to find some other way to take care of myself. I would like a job. I hope that I’m employable. How do you get around? How do you take a bus when you have a wheelchair? There’s a lot of things that I worry about.”
Barnett has never admitted to arranging to have her ex-husband killed and denied it even during her parole hearing when she was asked point blank if she wanted Witkin killed.
“No. I wanted the situation fixed. And that’s what I was used to. Everything getting fixed,” said Barnett. “I do a lot of things like say things like, I wish somebody would take a long walk on a short pier…I might have said, I wish he’d dropped dead if I wasn’t angry about something. I can’t deny saying that.”