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College Place man arrested in connection to murder

  • Updated
  • 1 min to read

This has been updated to reflect the correct age of Wilkinson.

A 28-year-old College Place man appeared this morning in Walla Walla County Superior Court in connection to the murder of a man whose body was found floating in late January at the mouth of the Walla Walla River.

Joey C. Barnes was arrested Monday night by Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office detectives for investigation of second-degree murder.

His bail was set this morning at $1 million, and Nicholas Holce was appointed as his attorney.

Barnes’ arrest and the probable cause affadavit provide the first glimpse into what might have happened in the death of A.J. Wilkinson on Dec. 16.

Wilkinson, 22, was allegedly involved in a local gang and “gave up” information earlier in the day about a gang in front of one of its members, according to the probable cause affadavit.

Wilkinson was reported missing “under suspicious circumstances” to the College Place Police Department mid-December. He was identified in early February as the man found in the river by the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office, which began investigating the case as a homicide.

Wilkinson apparently had ties in Washington, Oregon and Louisiana, according to his family. An autopsy showed he died from multiple gunshot wounds to the trunk, with drowning and acute meth intoxication as contributing factors.

Witnesses told detectives Wilkinson and several others drove from Barnes’ house that night after dinner to the end of North Shore Road, where the group told Wilkinson they were going to get back a gun that had been forcefully taken from him. However, an altercation allegedly occurred between Wilkinson and one of the other passengers, and Wilkinson jumped into the river about 5 miles upstream from where he was located in January, records stated.

One of the other passengers allegedly started shooting.

The group reportedly left the scene.

The next day, Barnes allegedly picked up Wilkinson’s girlfriend from jail. She discovered Wilkinson’s home in disarray, with his ID and other belongings still there.

Detectives used cell phone pings and data to help determine the location of those present during the alleged murder, records stated. Barnes used a particular spelling of “find” whenever he messaged anyone, records stated, and allegedly used Wilkinson’s Facebook account.

On March 5, Barnes told Wilkinson’s sister others were trying to frame him, records stated. No other arrests had been made in the case as of this morning.

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.