By Linh Nguyen
MISSOURI — Despite the fact that many states postponed lethal injections amid the coronavirus pandemic, Missouri is maintaining their scheduled execution of 64-year-old Walter Barton on May 19, 2020.
Walter Barton was convicted of the first-degree murder of an 81-year-old woman, Gladys Kuehler, and sentenced to death. The murder occurred in 1991 at a trailer park. The victim, who was unable to move without a cane, was found beaten, sexually assaulted and stabbed over 50 times in Ozark, Missouri. Her body was found in the bedroom of her trailer home by her granddaughter, another resident in the trailer park, and Barton. From 1993 to 2006, Barton went to trial five times in a series of appeals and mistrials.
Recently, new concerns have arisen regarding a key piece of evidence that led to his conviction.
A new revelation in the blood splatter stain that was found on Barton’s clothing suggests that the blood was transferred onto his clothing after Barton and the other witnesses found the victim. A blood splatter expert also said that the assailant would have far more blood on his clothing than Barton had.
In 2015, Barton’s lawyer, Fred Duchardt, asked a crime scene analyst to examine the evidence. The analyst, Lawrence Renner, believed that the stains on Barton’s clothing were not consistent with typical impact stains. Instead, they are believed to be transfer stains from when Barton’s shirt touched the existing bloodstains.
This was all contradictory to what was initially testified to in 1993.
In 2009, three years after Barton was sentenced to death, the National Academy of Sciences released a report that found conclusions made by bloodstain pattern analysts are generally “more subjective than scientific,” stating that there are “[enormous uncertainties].”
Upon hearing about these findings, three jurors from the original jury that convicted him said that the new revelations would have affected their deliberations. They signed affidavits confirming their statements, calling the new evidence “compelling.” The jury foreman also said that, based on the evidence, he would have been “uncomfortable” recommending the death penalty.
Barton told the police that the small stains of the victim’s blood must have come from when he slipped in pulling her granddaughter away from the victim’s body upon finding it. The granddaughter initially confirmed Barton’s actions, but later testified that Barton never entered the bedroom.
The next key piece of questionable evidence was statements from a jailhouse informant. The informant, Katherine Allen, testified that Barton told her he would kill her “like he killed that old lady.”
Allen had 29 convictions on her record. Her criminal charges in Cass County, Missouri, were dropped in exchange for her testimony against Barton. Allen was called a “life-long perpetrator of fraud and identity theft schemes” by federal prosecutors in Indiana, making her testimony potentially unreliable.
In 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed Barton’s conviction in a 4 to 3 decision.
“The evidence against the appellant was strong,” their opinion wrote. “Kuehler’s blood was found on [the] appellant’s clothing. Appellant was present in Kuehler’s trailer during the time frame in which the crime was committed. […] The state’s case, although circumstantial, contains strong evidence of [the] appellant’s guilt.”
The dissenters believed that Barton should get a new trial because the only physical evidence tying Barton to the murder was the bloodstain on his shirt.
Barton requested a new hearing to argue for his innocence and impairment from a brain injury. In April of 2020, The Missouri Supreme Court denied Barton’s request for a new hearing. The state Attorney General’s office said that the evidence was not new and did not suggest that no reasonable juror would vote to convict him. Last week, the state Attorney General’s office also asked the court to reject Barton’s federal petition.
On May 13, 2020, the NAACP and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty have submitted over 5,000 petition signatures to Governor Mike Parson, asking him to grant Barton clemency. Furthermore, there have been outcries on social media for public awareness of Barton’s case.
Duchardt argues that Barton is unfit to be executed because he suffered a brain injury as a teenager that affected the rest of his life.
The governor’s spokesperson Kelli Jones said the governor’s office anticipates that the execution will proceed as scheduled. Despite new concerns over evidence and the fact that he has maintained claims of innocence, Barton’s execution is to take place on May 19 at the Bonne Terre state facility, marking the first execution since Mar. 5, 2020, and the first execution amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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