California: The Fresno Bee, Saturday, February 8, 2003

Fresnan admits killing student

By Charles Mcarthy
The Fresno Bee

MADERA—A Fresno man pleaded guilty Friday to the 1997 murder of a Clovis college student, a plea the victim's mother never expected to hear.

Jacob Lee Travis, 33, had been charged with first-degree murder in the July 4, 1997, death of 20-year-old Andrea Mercedes Born. State prosecutors allowed Travis to admit to a lesser charge of second-degree murder in Madera County Court.

"I never thought he would admit it ... even if they found him guilty," the victim's mother, Gloria Barnes of Santa Cruz, said after the plea hearing.

Retired Fresno County Judge Armando Rodriguez accepted the plea after Travis answered a long series of questions. Rodriguez set March 7 for sentencing.

Barnes plans to travel from Santa Cruz for the sentencing. She was "surprised" that Travis was willing to plead guilty. But she was convinced that he killed her daughter. They had been friends. Friday's plea didn't close the case for her.

"It's finishing this part of it," Barnes said about her daughter's murder. "Why? ... Why couldn't he just let her go? Why couldn't they go their separate ways and remain friends?"

Born's body was found the night of July 4, 1997, in an orchard near Highway 99 and Avenue 7 in Madera County. The California State University, Fresno, student had been shot in the head and her body set afire.

In 1999, state Department of Justice investigators were brought into the case because Madera County didn't have the resources for a far-reaching investigation. A billboard on northbound Freeway 99 in Fresno advertising a $50,000 reward offered by Gov. Davis produced no viable clues.

Finally, in March 2001, Travis was arrested in a suburb of Seattle by state and federal task-force agents. He was returned to Madera County, and the state Attorney General's prosecution began.

After court on Friday, prosecutors Jesse Witt and Catherine Tennant talked about the case, which ranges from Alaska to Southern California. They were preparing for a trial with as many as 30 witnesses and boxes full of evidence.

Barnes enlisted widespread support in the hunt for her daughter's killer. There is a Web site dedicated to her "Annie" and the quest for justice.

"I think it's really important for people to understand that if the police aren't doing it ... do it yourself," Barnes said. "Don't ever give up."

The reporter can be reached at cmccarthy@fresnobee.com or (559) 675-6804.

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