State of Missouri sets execution date for Christian County man

OZARK, Mo. -- A Missouri man convicted of killing an 81-year-old mobile home park manager nearly three decades ago now faces execution in May.

Walter Barton/State of Missouri

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday set a May 19 execution date for Walter Barton, 64. He would be the first Missouri inmate put to death since Russell Bucklew was executed in October. Barton's case has been tied up in court for years due to mistrials, appeals and two overturned convictions, and his attorney continues to maintain his innocence.

Gladys Kuehler operated a mobile home park in the southwestern Missouri town of Ozark, near Springfield. In October 1991, friends and relatives of Kuehler were concerned when they couldn't reach her, and contacted police.

Officers found Kuehler dead inside her mobile home. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and stabbed more than 50 times.

DNA testing showed that a stain on Barton's clothing was Kuehler's blood.

Barton's attorney, Frederick A. Duchardt Jr., said Barton had blood on his shirt because he was among those who helped identify the victim. Duchardt said the conviction was also based on testimony from an unreliable witness.

"I'm saying the state of Missouri is about to prove why the death penalty should not be used because they are about to execute an innocent man," Duchardt said.

The first attempt to prosecute Barton ended in a mistrial in 1993 after his attorney objected that prosecutors had failed to endorse any trial witnesses. Another mistrial was declared that same year after another jury deadlocked.

Barton was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court overturned the conviction over objections to the prosecutor's final arguments. Barton was convicted again and sentenced to death in 1998, but another new trial was ordered when a judge found that the prosecution had failed to disclose the full background of one of its witnesses, among other improprieties.

At his fifth trial, in 2006, Barton was convicted for the third time. The state Supreme Court upheld that conviction and death penalty in 2007, but Barton has continued his appeals.

Missouri was once among the most active death penalty states, but the pace of executions has slowed considerably in recent years in part because fewer convicted killers are being sentenced to death. Bucklew's execution was the first since January 2017.

Duchart tells us that he plans to take Barton's case to Governor Mike Parson for consideration.

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