Despite 5 trials, dubious blood spatter evidence, and key testimony given by a jailhouse informant, Walter Barton is due to be executed by the state of Missouri tomorrow, May 19th.
Barton, sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of Gladys Kuehler in Christian County, MO, has been tried no fewer than 5 times in a case that has pin-balled its way through the courts for more than 25 years.
While a Missouri District Court issued a stay of execution for Barton earlier this month, Missouri Attorney General, Eric Schmitt was quick to appeal their decision before the 8th Circuit court. Yesterday saw that appeal granted, and once more Barton’s life hangs in the balance.
Key to Barton’s conviction at his 5th trial was blood spatter evidence offered by State expert William Newhouse. Newhouse testified to 3 stains found on Barton’s shirt and jeans that were the, “[r]esult of impact spatter, and could not have been created by rubbing up against already present blood.”
Barton’s defense counsel chose not to counter Newhouse’s claims with their own blood spatter expert’s opinion–Lawrence Renner–that, “[t]he clothing could not have been worn at the time of the killing of Gladys Kuehler by her killer because there were too few stains on the clothing, especially in light of the number and kinds of wounds inflicted on the body of Ms. Kuehler,” in favor of discrediting Newhouse’s findings as ‘junk science.’
Further key evidence elicited from Barton’s 5th trial was testimony from Katherine Allen–Allen has since changed her name to Catherine Demaree–claiming that, “[o]n more than one occasion, Mr. Barton asked her if she knew the reason for which he was in jail, and threatened that he would kill her, ‘like he killed that old lady.’”
During Barton’s 4th trial, Allen asserted that she had six convictions for “check” charges, when in reality, Allen’s convictions totaled no fewer than 29. Perhaps of more pertinence was Circuit Judge John Sims’–presiding over Barton’s trials–finding that, “[t]hrough other records presented by Barton’s Attorney [Elizabeth] Carlyle, that Allen had received dismissal of Cass County, Missouri criminal charges in return for testifying against Mr. Barton, and that fact was not brought forward to the Fourth Trial jury.”
Since Barton’s 5th trial Allen has been convicted in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Indiana for identity theft and mail fraud involving ten individuals and eleven financial institutions.
While Barton’s attorney’s chose to counter the state’s ‘expert’ in blood spatter analysis by denouncing the highly controversial practice itself, they did in doing so cut off avenues for appeal further down the road–challenges have been brought in Federal habeas proceedings; yet relief was denied because of the failure to raise the claim in state proceedings.
Since Barton’s 5th conviction, 3 jurors from his last trial have spoken out, confirming that had Renner testified during trial, their opinion, and duly their verdicts would have likely been different.
Jurors; perhaps understandably, are trusting of ‘experts’ offered by state prosecutors, and in many cases, fighting fire with fire via contradictory ‘expert’ opinion, is more potent than denouncing practices as ‘junk-science,’ even when practices such as blood spatter analysis have been proven to be flawed on multiple occasions.
Yet, with both prosecution and defense attorneys still choosing to play both sides of the field, and with so many cases present in the appeals process, ‘junk-science’ such as blood spatter analysis, is set to remain prevalent in thousands of cases.
Regarding jailhouse informant testimony; and on a broader scale, incentivized testimony, much has been brought to light as to not only its devastating weight, but also its legitimacy.
Thorough exposés have shown the clear dangers of key witnesses falsely testifying during trials, and duly aiding in the conviction of innocents. With regard to Barton, it is clear that while the jury was made aware of Allen’s prior indiscretions in part, a full disclosure, was not made apparent, and indeed, intentionally avoided.
Of perhaps greater significance, was the state’s active participation in such deception.
Being a death penalty case, confidence in his guilt is paramount. Indeed, the Supreme Court of Missouri narrowly affirmed in favor of both the judgement and sentence of Barton–by a vote of 4-3. While there was further circumstantial evidence offered at trial, it was clearly both the highly controversial blood spatter analysis offered by Newhouse, and the incentivized testimony given by a 29 times convicted Allen, that secured Barton’s conviction for a case tried 5 times in a court of law.
While recourse through the judicial system has reached its apparent end, one final ray of hope remains for Barton.
Marcellus Williams, also from Missouri, came within hours of execution back in August of 2017. Then Gov. Eric Greitens, by executive order, formed a Board of Inquiry to look into a case that rose more questions than answers.
Williams’ case too centered around jailhouse informant testimony, along with D.N.A evidence that could have potentially exonerated him.
While Greitens was to leave office shortly after his formation of the Board of Inquiry, incumbent Governor Mike Parson, chose to stand by Greiten’s decision and let the board go about their investigation.
Parson will once more be given the opportunity to act in a case that bares many similarities.
To contact Gov. Parson and ask him to stay the execution of Walter Barton and assign a Board of Inquiry to look into his case, please use the details below:
Contact Gov. Parson at 573-751-3222