Denton County Manslaughter Trial in Fatal Fire Ends in Mistrial

Judge declares mistrial after jury unable to reach verdict

A Denton County judge has declared a mistrial in the manslaughter trial of a woman accused of setting a house fire that killed a 2-year-old.

Prosecutors say Toni Barnett, of Frisco, set her boyfriend's Carrollton house on fire in August 2010, killing his 2-year-old son.

On Monday afternoon, District Court Judge L. Dee Shipman granted the defense’s request for a mistrial after the jury returned multiple times saying it was unable to reach a verdict.

The 12 jurors got the case at about 9:30 a.m., and the mistrial was declared at about 4:20 p.m.

Shipman told attorneys he would not call jurors to return for another day of deliberations after already sitting through a week of arguments.

Barnett's defense attorneys said it was a difficult decision for their client, whose life has to remain on hold for another trial. However, given the complexity of the charges in the case, they were pleased the jury gave the case proper consideration, they said.

"We're just confident and satisfied that the jury was able to hear the entire story," defense attorney Anthony Farmer said. "Our client's story came out."

The county district attorney’s office was not immediately available for comment on the case.

During the trial, prosecutors said Barnett set fire to her boyfriend’s bed in his Carrollton home after an argument.

Investigators say the boyfriend, Christian Smalls, dragged the burning mattress into the home’s hallway in hopes of getting it outside but it got stuck on the way. The flames then spread throughout the house, reaching 1,200 degrees in areas.

On day one of the trial, Smalls told the jury that his three oldest sons were able to get out of their bedroom windows and onto the roof of the house. He said he was able to pull one of his younger sons through a window, but he couldn’t save 2-year-old Braylen.

Witnesses for the prosecution told the court that Smalls woke up the night of the fire and saw Barnett standing at the foot of the bed with a lighter. He later woke to find the bed on fire, they said.

Barnett testified that Smalls, not her, was responsible for the fire. Her attorney said Barnett was innocent of all charges.

Barnett had faced second-degree manslaughter charges. If convicted, she would have faced up to 20 years in prison.

Attorneys and the judge have begun the process of scheduling a new trial, tentatively for the first week in December. Defense attorneys told NBC 5 that they expect the prosecution to make some changes to the charges or strategy.

Contact Us