MARTINEZ -- A 22-year-old Richmond woman was sentenced Thursday to 15 years to life in prison for her role in the gruesome slaying of a 21-year-old Benicia native over the deed of a bank-owned house in Concord.

Approximately 60 people packed a Martinez courtroom to watch Randi Dees plead no contest to second-degree murder for the Oct. 21, 2011, killing of Shelby Elizabeth Barnes, described by her friends and family as small at 4 feet, 10 inches and 84 pounds but big in personality and a capacity to love.

"When she was taken from us, my life was also violently shattered," said Shelby's mother, Charlene Barnes, among some two dozen people who either spoke or wrote letters asking for justice for the slain woman. "I only have 21 years of memories with her. There was so many more to make."

Prosecutor Jason Peck said Dees' then-boyfriend, Donald Paul Waldecker, bashed in Barnes' head with a wooden table leg and slit her throat as part of an ill-conceived plan to get the deed to a house on Glenside Court in Concord that she was allowing him to stay in with her.

Waldecker thought Barnes could simply hand over the deed and the house would be his, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing last year for Waldecker, Dees and another alleged accomplice, Johnathan Harriel. The house, once owned by Barnes' father, was in foreclosure and was owned by a bank at the time of Barnes' death.

Harriel and Dees were prosecuted with murder under an "aider and abettor" theory. Peck said that they found pieces of duct tape Waldecker used to bind Barnes after Waldecker first attacked her in the Concord residence.

The murder rocked the close-knit community in Barnes' hometown of Benicia and still has people who loved Barnes in distress.

"No parent in Benicia will ever feel comfortable letting our children out the front door again," said the mother of Barnes' childhood friend.

Dees apologized to Barnes' family through a letter read by her attorney. Her family said that she was threatened by Waldecker to be complicit in the crime and ultimately took a plea deal because she knows it was wrong not to try to help Barnes. They described Dees as a former straight-A student who fell into drugs about a year before her arrest. Like Barnes, she had a happy childhood, loving parents and was active in church and the community.

"There's so much more to her than that one day," Dees' mother said.

Waldecker, 25, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to his murder charge and is scheduled to go to trial on March 3. Harriel, who was 17 at the time of Barnes' death but is being prosecuted as an adult, is scheduled to go to trial in late March.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at