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Grand Junction resident Warren Barnes, aka “the reading man” sits alone reading a book in an alley off Main Street in downtown Grand Junction on June 24, 2018. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

GRAND JUNCTION — More than 30 friends and relatives of the victim of a grisly murder two years ago crowded into a Grand Junction courtroom Monday morning to witness the sentencing of his killer, a young man who told investigators he chose a homeless victim because no one would notice his disappearance.

The victim, Warren Barnes, was known around downtown Grand Junction as “the reading man” because he so often sat behind a bridal shop absorbed in paperbacks when he wasn’t helping store owners move boxes or doing odd jobs through a temporary agency.

“He was valued. He was loved. … He is missed every single day,” said Monique Lanotti, who owns the bridal shop where the 69-year-old Barnes found his own version of home.

Barnes’ friends and family first realized he had been the victim of a crime when he didn’t show up in his usual spot one day in late February 2021. They soon learned that Brian Cohee II had admitted to killing and dismembering Barnes the night before he went missing. Barnes was attacked as he slept under a bridge just blocks from downtown.

Cohee was identified as the suspect after his mother found parts of Barnes’ body in a bag in her son’s closet.

Cohee confessed that, for months, he had been wanting to know what it felt like to kill someone. He had put together a kit with a 12-inch kitchen knife, plastic gloves, and other materials to carry out his plan. He spent weeks driving around looking for the right homeless victim, according to testimony during his trial. The night he killed Barnes he noted the occasion with a “1st” in his cellphone notes.

A jury Friday found Cohee guilty of first-degree murder, and three counts of tampering with a body and evidence. He had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury determined that Cohee was able to tell right from wrong after a two-week trial filled with gruesome evidence, and two days of deliberation.

Twenty-first Judicial District Judge Richard Gurley on Monday sentenced Cohee to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the mandatory penalty for first-degree murder in Colorado. 

At the hearing, the now 21-year-old Cohee showed no emotion as Barnes’ friends and relatives filed up to the podium to speak about the lingering pain from the senseless murder of a man they described as gentle, selfless and kind, a man who asked for nothing from others beyond a place to sit and read.

The teen accused of murdering Warren Barnes, known as the reading man of Grand Junction, told investigators he targeted a homeless person because he thought no one would miss. But people did, indeed, miss him. Friends commissioned a tribute to Barnes that was installed Nov. 20, 2021, by artist and ironworker Tim Navin. (Nancy Lofholm, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Cohee also sat stone-faced as his mother, Terri Cohee, sobbed and shook while describing her son as a young man with mental defects who always knew “he was not like other people.” Cohee, whose nickname in middle school was “Dahmer,” for the infamous killer Jeffrey Dahmer, has been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, with ADHD, and with being on the autism spectrum.

Cohee’s mother told the court she has spent the past two years shedding tears for Barnes and his family.

Geraldine Shipp, one of Barnes’ eight siblings, said she still has nightmares about the way her brother was brutally murdered a day after he had phoned her to wish her happy birthday.

“He was a man of honor, a man of integrity, a man loved by community and family,” she told the court.

Family members and friends stressed that Barnes counted even though he chose to live outside.

They noted that he was never known to beg or to hassle passersby. He had a stock phrase for those who wished him a nice day: “And you also.” He shared his daily Subway sandwiches with the birds that would gather around his scuffed boots.

“He would help anyone who needed anything, including the defendant,” Barnes’ cousin Joanne Barnes Graham said in court Monday. “He was not a throwaway person.”

In further proof of that, a memorial sculpture was erected in the breezeway near where he used to sit. It is a metal replica of his chair with a stack of books etched with the titles of some of his favorite Westerns. An inscription on the back of one of the books reads, “And you also.”  

Friends commissioned a tribute to Barnes that was installed Nov. 20, 2021 by the artist, ironworker Tim Navin, who included a book inscribed with “And you also,” which is what Barnes always said when people told him to “have a good day.” (Nancy Lofholm, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Special to The Colorado Sun Email: Twitter: @nlofholm