Walter Barton execution to be first during pandemic, after seven delays

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — The pause in U.S. executions during the coronavirus pandemic likely will end Tuesday with the scheduled lethal injection of a Missouri inmate for slaying an elderly woman nearly three decades ago.

Death row inmate Walter Barton, 2014. (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP, File) Walter Barton, 64, would be the first person executed in the U.S. since Nathaniel Woods was put to death in Alabama on March 5. Soon after that, efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus shut down the U.S. economy and led to strict limits on social distancing, including inside prisons. Three states have put aside executions over the past 2½ months.

Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Monday that he had not heard anything to make him reconsider the execution, which he said would “move forward as scheduled.” It is to take place at 6 p.m. Central time.

A federal appeals court on Sunday overturned a 30-day stay of execution granted by a judge two days earlier. The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon denied Barton’s attorney’s request for a stay of execution.

Barton has long said he was innocent, and his case has been tied up for years due to appeals, mistrials and two overturned convictions.

The victim, Gladys Kuehler, operated a mobile home park in the town of Ozark, Missouri, near Springfield. In October 1991 she was found dead in her bedroom. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and stabbed more than 50 times.

Barton often spent time at the mobile home park. He was with her granddaughter and a neighbor on the evening of Oct. 9, 1991, when they found Kuehler dead in her bedroom.

Police noticed what appeared to be blood stains on Barton’s clothing, and DNA tests later confirmed it was Kuehler’s. Barton said the blood must have been transfered when he pulled Kuehler’s granddaughter away from the body. The granddaughter first confirmed that account but later testified that Barton never came into the bedroom. A blood spatter expert at Barton’s trial said the three small stains likely resulted from the “impact” of the knife.

In recent court filings, Barton’s attorney, Fred Duchardt Jr., cited the findings of another blood spatter expert. Lawrence Renner examined Barton’s clothing and boots and concluded the killer would have had far more blood stains.

Duchardt said three jurors recently signed affidavits calling Renner’s determination “compelling” and saying it would have affected their deliberations. The jury foreman said that based on the new evidence, he would have been “uncomfortable” recommending the death penalty.

“I don’t know how anybody could look at the evidence now and convict him,” Duchardt said.

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in the prison housing Missouri’s execution chamber, in Bonne Terre, about 60 miles south of St. Louis.

Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said everyone entering the prison will have their temperatures checked and will be offered face coverings. Witnesses will be divided into three rooms. Those witnesses include an Associated Press reporter and other journalists and state witnesses, and people there …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World


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