Home / DNA Doesn’t Lie: Sarah Wisnosky Case

DNA Doesn’t Lie: Sarah Wisnosky Case

In the case of Sarah Wisnosky case, DNA doesn’t lie, even if her boyfriend Derek Barnabei thinks so. Learn more about Barnabei fighting against DNA and how he lost. In the murder of Sarah Wisnosky, 17 students at Old Dominion University, Derek Barnabei was formally convicted, sentenced to death, and executed for his role in the rape and capital murder. 

Barnabei and Wisnosky dated one another and they were last seen in Barnabei’s apartment that he shared with a few roommates. 

Sarah’s naked body would be discovered down the river of Lafayette on September 22, 1993. Wisnosky was strangled, but she also received at least 10 blows straight to her skull from what it looked like a ball-peen hammer. 

Shortly after the crime, Derek Barnabei fled the state and went straight to Ohio. 

Investigators found bloodstains that matched Wisnosky blood type in Barbabei’s bedroom. When some of the forensic evidence came back from the lab it also showed that Barnabei’s semen was found in Wisnosky’s dead body as well. 

During the Clemency stage, Governor Gilmore officially ordered more DNA testing. This DNA testing would include fingernail scrapings of Wisnosky. This test was highly encouraged by Barnabei’s lawyers who kept saying their client was not guilty. However, with the additional DNA testing, it all came back to point a finger at Barnabei and put the last nail in his coffin. 

Unfortunately, there were no witnesses that could speak upon the crime at hand. Also, investigators could never locate the murder weapon either. 

Execution Date Set

The execution date was put in place in 2000 for Derek R. Barnabei, who was formally charged and convicted of raping and killing his girlfriend Sarah Wisnosky who was a student at Old Dominion University in 1993. 

Charles E. Poston, Circuit Judge had ordered that Derek be executed on September 14, 2000. During this time Barnabei’s legal counsel was still appealing his capital murder conviction. Barnabei’s legal counsel even tried to call for a new trial solely based on the DNA testing was not fully complete before his original trial started. 

Barnabei’s legal counsel was homing in on the blood that was found right under Wisnosky’s fingernails. At the time of his original trial, this blood DNA was never tested for identification. 

The prosecution team stated that they did not need this evidence to prove Barnabei was guilty without a doubt, but Barnabei’s legal counsel stated that this testing could easily have implicate another person in the role of Wisnosky’s murder. 

According to one of the attorneys, Barnabei’s case stated that the Governor Gilmore received a mailed request asking for more DNA testing.  However, Barnabei at this time was going to appeal his capital murder case all the way to the United States Supreme Court as well. 

Barnabei’s case was simple, his girlfriend Sarah’s naked body was found down the Lafayette River on September 22, 1993. The then 17-year-old Sarah was strangled to death, but also received 10 blows straight to her skull from what looked like a ball-peen hammer. 

Barnabei always denied all the charges. But just two years later in 1995, Barnabei was not only convicted of rape, but also convicted of capital murder. 

Forensic teams would find bloodstains that matched Sarah’s blood around Barnabei’s bedroom, stated the prosecution. 

The prosecution would also display forensic evidence that matched semen in Sarah’s body to Barnabei himself. 

Barnabei’s defense team would rebut that this evidence would only showcase that both Barnabei and Wisnosky had a consensual relationship and nothing further. It did now show that he was the one who raped and murdered her. 

Derek’s Execution Day

On September 14, 2000, Derek Barnabei was executed in the case of murdering and raping his then-girlfriend Sarah Wisnosky who was a student at Old Dominion University. 

Just a few hours prior to Barnabei being executed the United States Supreme Court denied his stay request. You should also note that the country of Italy was closely monitoring Barnabei’s case. 

Barnabei was only 33 when he was executed. The method of execution in the case of Derek Barnabei was executed by lethal injection. Barnabei was executed at Greensville Correctional Center. He was officially pronounced deceased at 9:05 pm. 

Barnabei’s final words were and I quote, “I am truly innocent of this crime. Eventually, the truth will come out.” After he stated his final words, he looked at his brother and mother and told them he loved them dearly along with citing a passage from the Bible. He even thanked a few people who took deep interest in his capital murder case as well. 

Then Barnabei was brought into the execution chamber here at the Greensville Correctional Center around 8:54 pm. Barnabei stared at Ron Angelone, Virginia Corrections Director who was on the phone with Virginia’s Governor Gilmore. 

Barnabei was dressed in dungarees, a blue shirt blue shower slippers, and white socks. 

The Roman Catholic priest, Rev. Jim Gallagher had a brief conversation with Barnabei in the execution chamber and then he went to his prospective place in the witness booth. During Barnabei’s execution, the priest was whispering prayers. 

The correctional institution started administering lethal chemicals at 9:02 pm in Barnabei’s left arm. Barnabei kept talking up until his lip movement abruptly stopped just a few seconds later. 

Barnabei ate his last meal around 5 pm, but at Barnabei’s request, prison officials could not dive into what Barnabei’s last meal was. 

None of Barnabei victim’s family were present for the execution of Barnabei. 

Just outside of the correctional institution about 25 people who opposed the death penalty were holding a candlelight vigil. Barnabei throughout the seven years on death row always stated he was innocent. 

However, the Barnabei case was closely monitored by the country of Italy because Barnabei was an Italian American and Italy is highly opposed to the death penalty. 

In an interview just a day before he was to be executed Barnabei stated and I quote, “I don’t want to die and it’s unjust that I die. If this is what God wants, then so be it. I accept it. Who am I to question the ultimate design?”

When Barnabei’s spiritual adviser met with him the day of his execution, he stated that Barnabei was ready to die and was at peace with this decision. 

Barnabei’s brother Craig Barnabei would describe Derek as a very calm and at peace with his person. During one of the last family meetings that were allowed at the correctional facility, Barnabei stated that to continue with their lives and fight. 

Barnabei originally wanted to be cremated after he was executed, but his mother, Jane was able to talk him out of that decision. 

Just two hours before Barnabei was to be executed, Barnabei would write his will. It is not known who is Barnabei’s beneficiaries. Andy Protogyrou, one of Barnabei’s legal counsels would not comment on it. 

Just earlier on the day of Barnabei’s execution, Barnabei’s defense team would file a last-minute clemency petition with the Virginia governor even after the governor stated that Monday, he would NOT be granting clemency for more DNA testing to ultimately confirm that Barnabei was guilty. 

Barnabei’s defense team would then argue that Barnabei had no right to be executed when the state police investigation continues the disappearance of the evidence within this case. They went as far as stating that this is doing Barnabei a disservice, but also doing a disservice to the people residing in the Commonwealth of Virginia to go on with the execution of Barnabei when there really is no conclusion as to what happened to the evidence. 

Governor Gilmore would state the day of execution that no one ever tampered with the evidence and that the evidence was tested. That all the evidence pointed the finger at Barnabei being the one who committed the crime. Gilmore went as far to say that we cannot retry the case inside the governor’s office either. 

The United States Supreme Court also rejected two stay requests after Barnabei was rejected by the United States District Judge James Spencer and the 4th United States Circuit Court of Appeals. 

All the courts would end up dismissing Barnabei’s defense arguments that the state of Virginia was tampering with the evidence and how more and more DNA testing should be completed. However, all DNA testing that was completed utterly pointed the finger at Barnabei. 

Not to mention that Wisnosky was last seen well and alive in Barnabei’s bedroom in a home that he shared with a few roommates in Norfolk. Only then her naked and bludgeoned body would be found in the Lafayette River. 

Barnabei was the 6th inmate to be executed in 2000 in Virginia. However, Barnabei was the 79th inmate to be executed since Virginia reinstated the death penalty in 1982.