Extensive evidence was presented in Nelson County General District Court on Jan. 17 in the case of a Maryland man accused of the aggravated murder of a Wintergreen police officer, including testimony from two friends staying with the defendant who said he violently attacked them prior to the June 16 shooting.
Daniel Barmak also is accused of malicious wounding and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. He was arrested after the incident that killed Mark Christopher “Chris” Wagner II, the first officer to arrive at the scene that night at 80 Arrowwood Lane in the Nelson County resort community.
Wagner, 31, encountered Barmak in the woods outside the home and a struggle ensued. During the course of that struggle over Wagner’s handgun, Barmak shot and killed the officer, Virginia State Police reported.
Barmak was in court Jan. 17 for a hearing that lasted four hours. Nelson General District Court Judge Sam Eggleston certified the three felony counts to an upcoming term of the grand jury, which will consider if probable cause is enough to send the case to trial.
Nelson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Daniel Rutherford on Jan. 17 dropped a drug possession count against Barmak.
Barmak also was shot in the leg during the incident. Barmak appeared at Jan. 17’s preliminary hearing in black pants and a sweater. His attorney, Doug Ramseur, asked that his client only be photographed by the media while seated and as he will appear at trial, without visible restraints, in the interest of a fair trial and not prejudicing a jury that will eventually be seated in the case.
Ramseur said Barmak has no previous criminal record, has not been a security concern and has been “nothing but respectful” while in custody. Barmak, who was attending college at Towson University in Maryland, was at the resort that weekend to relax when he appeared to have had some sort of “psychotic break” over the course of a few hours the night of June 16, Ramseur said.
Rutherford said it took several officers to subdue Barmak and he “wanted the court to know of the force needed” by officers.
Three officers stood behind Barmak during the hearing that lasted four hours. Virginia State Police special agent Travis Lewis testified to processing the crime scene at the residence at Arrowwood Lane and nearby woods.
Lewis testified Wagner’s body was an estimated 60 to 70 feet from the two-story home. He testified of locating the pistol, a knife in the home with a red stain on the blade and Wagner’s vest with a bullet hole in it. He collected body camera footage from that vest, a roughly five-minute clip that Rutherford showed to Eggleston.
Wintergreen police officer Timothy Smith testified he and Wagner were the two officers on duty for the small private department. Smith said he heard Wagner’s call from the scene “getting urgent” and when he arrived at the residence saw Wagner’s police cruiser and the front door to the residence open.
A search of the house showed “clear indication a fight had occurred,” Smith said. He testified to encountering Barmak, who was “completely nude” and covered in mud and blood, and ordered him to the ground.
Barmak charged toward him, Smith said, and the officer prepared for combat hand-to-hand when his Taser failed to work.
“He was making an aggressive move rapidly toward me,” Smith said.
After a few other officers who arrived joined in restraining Barmak, Smith said he checked on Wagner and observed the officer was shot in the neck, covered in blood and had no pulse.
Wagner was lying on the ground with his arm by his head in a defensive position, Smith testified. Emergency responders tended to Wagner, who was pronounced dead on the scene, and Smith said he went back to assist officers restraining Barmak.
Barmak was “hitting, kicking, biting, spitting — anything to get us off him” and at one point chewed at gravel on the ground, Smith testified.
Smith said Barmak’s hands were empty during their scuffle but tried to reach for Smith’s weapon. The officer said he also heard Barmak laughing at one point, and he had been shot in the knee before Smith arrived on scene.
Observing Barmak, Smith said he believed he was dealing with a person high on drugs or alcohol and his speech was “mostly incoherent.” Barmak also repeatedly banged his head on the ground, Smith said.
In addition to chewing gravel, Barmak attempted to bite through the handcuffs and bit into his own leg, Smith testified.
Ryan Warshaw testified he and Barmak were close friends who were spending the weekend at the Wintergreen house owned by the family of William Spiller, another friend. The three were on a golfing trip that weekend, Warshaw said.
Barmak began acting strange during a hike earlier on June 16 and later while the three were on the porch, attempted to throw himself over the railing, Warshaw said.
The two got Barmak down from the railing and Barmak turned violent, Warshaw testified. Barmak threw a glass at Warshaw, punched him and grabbed a kitchen knife, stabbing him in the back as he tried to get away, he testified.
At one point, Warshaw was in a chokehold and Barmak bit off a chunk of his ear, Warshaw testified. During the fight, Warshaw said the two begged him to stop and asked what he wanted, to which Barmak replied: “You dead.”
Barmak pushed the knife toward his throat and left Warshaw with two black eyes, Warshaw said. When Rutherford asked if Barmak is easy to subdue, Warshaw said: “Absolutely not.”
Warshaw testified he got out of the chokehold and left the house after being wounded, flagging someone down to get help and call 911. Warshaw said Barmak used mushrooms and another white powdery drug, ketamine, before exhibiting such strange behavior.
Barmak is normally a friendly, easygoing guy and the two were fraternity brothers, Warshaw said.
Ramseur, during questioning, said Warshaw commented Barmak was “losing it.”
“What do you think he lost?” the attorney asked.
“His mind,” Warshaw responded.
Warshaw said he was traumatized by his best friend attacking him for no reason. Barmak was clothed during the attack, he said.
Spiller testified about the melee and said Barmak punched them and bit at the two, “he’s calling us liars, saying he wants us dead.”
Spiller said the two were terrified and in disbelief from his violent display and Barmak also poured detergent on them in the laundry room as they tried to stop him.
“I was fighting for my life,” Spiller said.
Barmak stood over Spiller and laughed menacingly “like a serial killer” from a movie, Spiller said.
Spiller ran outside and said he was scared Barmak would kill him on the road. He testified to seeing Wagner struggle with Barmak and from a distance saw them fighting over an object. Spiller heard a gunshot while running away, was picked up by his sister and taken to the nearby fire station, he said.
Spiller said he observed Barmak snort white powder and ingest it multiple times that day.
Until Barmak grabbed the knife, Spiller said he would never have thought Barmak would try to kill him and the three were set to go golfing the next day. He testified to seeing Barmak walk barefoot over broken glass to charge at the two.
“I think he wanted to hurt somebody that night,” Spiller said. “It didn’t matter who it was.”
Ramseur said the only recorded interaction Barmak had with Wagner in their struggle was “none of this is real” and it was clear he was acting like a person not in his right mind. For that reason, Ramseur argued the aggravated murder count lacks an element of premeditation and second-degree murder, a lesser offense, is a more appropriate charge.
Rutherford disagreed, arguing Barmak used a knife and a hook during the attack and charged at people in a way of accomplishing his goal that night of wanting others dead.
Several Wintergreen police officers attended the hearing. The tragedy spurred Nelson County officials and multiple other localities to support legislation in the current Virginia General Assembly session to extend line of duty benefits to privately employed police officers. A bill in the House of Delegates has already failed, but there is still a chance for mirror legislation in the Senate.