Walter E. Barton

THE FRONT PAGE OF THE OZARK HEADLINER from Oct. 17, 1991, reports the arrest of Walter E. Barton (inset photograph from the Missouri Department of Corrections) on suspicion of killing Gladys Kuehler in Ozark.

A federal appeals court overturned a stay of execution for 64-year-old Walter Barton, clearing the way for the state of Missouri to execute Barton for the 1991 murder of Gladys Kuehler of Ozark.

On May 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated a stay of execution that a judge issued for Barton on May 15, meaning that Barton could be executed on May 19. Barton has maintained throughout five different trials, including his 2006 trial is Cass County that resulted in a jury issuing the death penalty, that he is innocent.

“(W)e see no possibility of success on the merits of either of Barton’s claims,” the appellate judges wrote in their opinion issued the day before Barton’s execution date.

Barton was convicted of first-degree murder in Cass County on a change of venue in 2006. That followed two mistrials, a trial and conviction that was later reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court, a second trial and conviction that was later vacated.

The Cass County jury found in 2006 that Kuehler’s death “involved depravity of mind, and as a result thereof, the murder was outrageously and wantonly vile, horrible and inhuman.”

Defense attorneys for Barton are arguing against a blood splatter expert that prosecuting attorneys used in their case against Barton. The defense attorney at trial did not bring forth a blood splatter expert to testify on Barton’s behalf, something the petitioners claim it should have done.

Barton's defense also wishes to argue against the testimony of a jailhouse informant who testified against Barton.

The ruling May 15 from U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes went against a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that upheld Barton's execution with a ruling April 27. 

Judge Wimes’ ruling left it up to the federal appeals court to decide in Barton would likely succeed with his petition for a writ of habeas corpus based on the merits of his petition. The May 15 ruling did not back up Barton's claims of innocence, but it asserts that "the Court requires more time to consider the merits of the claims beyond the 15 days available between the filing of habeas petition May 4, 2020, and the scheduled execution date, May 19, 2020."

In the opinion issued May 18 which set the stage for Barton to be executed, the appeals court noted, “Because the district court found itself without time to consider the merits at all, we have carefully reviewed them ourselves to determine if a stay is warranted."

The federal court ruled that Barton’s dispute with a jailhouse informant’s testimony is not “new” evidence, and that it was could have been used by his defense.

“Thus, this evidence cannot support his claim of actual innocence,” the court opined.

The court also ruled that Barton’s evidence regarding a blood spatter expert’s was not “new.” The court found that Barton’s defense attorney decided not to call its own blood spatter expert to testify in his case, because the expert’s testimony would, “be inconsistent with Barton’s story regarding how the blood got onto his clothing.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt immediately appealed Wimes’ ruling on May 15, noting the length of time that Barton's case has dragged through the criminal justice system.

"There is nothing that supports a stay here. But, nevertheless, the district court granted a stay of execution--not because it found that Barton had met the standard for a stay as set out in the applicable case law--but instead only because it wanted more time to consider his claims," the appeal document reads, in part. "Missouri respectfully submits that the 28 years since Barton's horrific crimes have provided sufficient time for review of his conviction and sentence."

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