ATLANTA - The man accused of shooting the former chairman of the Atlanta Housing Authority and a prominent community leader pleaded guilty in connection to his murder Monday.
Eric Banks, Jr., 18, admitted to shooting the Barney Simms, 70, in the back twice in front of Simms’ home located on Connally Drive on April 9, 2016. Police said when they arrived at the scene, they discovered Simms’ wallet and car were stolen. His house was also left open and a flat-screen TV was missing.
Investigators tracked Simms’ last purchase to a Waffle House located near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. There, officers pulled video of Simms and Banks eating. Relatives later identified Banks as the man in the video with Simms.
Police also followed a trail of fraudulent charges made on Simms’ bank card, leading investigators back to Banks. He was arrested five days after the discovery of the well-known community leader’s body and found his missing car in Banks’ neighborhood.
Banks initially told authorities he shot the civic leader because he “came add him” and was inappropriately touched, claiming the shooting was in self-defense. Prosecutors believed Banks made up the story to cover up for the robbery which turned bad.
Monday, Banks pleaded guilty to malice murder, three counts of felony murder, hijacking a motor vehicle, armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. As part of a plea bargain, the judge sentenced him to 35 years to serve in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Barney Simms was a well-respected leader and community activist. Mr. Simms’ death was a senseless killing leaving a large hole in our community. It is our hope that this plea to murder will bring a sense of closure to the family and to the citizens of our County,” Paul Howard, Jr., Fulton County District Attorney was quoted as saying in a release sent to FOX 5 News.
Friends of Simms believed he was trying to mentor and help Banks at the time of the shooting. They said he was often known to help out members of the community
Members of the Antioch Baptist North Church, where Simms was a life-long member, said the 70-year-old was a true gentleman who deeply cared for those around him.