Updated: February 24, 2021
Amnesty International on Monday condemned plans to execute a Missouri death row inmate Walter Barton, after a federal appeals court ruled Barton should be executed on Tuesday, despite questions raised about evidence used to convict him.
The 64-year old is set to die by lethal injection for the 1991 killing of 81-year-old trailer park operator Gladys Kuehler. Kuehler was beaten, sexually assaulted and stabbed more than 50 times in Ozark, near Springfield.
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The decision to execute Barton was reached on Sunday by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which vacated a 30-day stay of execution granted Friday to Barton by a federal judge.
A federal judge on Friday had ruled that the court needed more time to consider issues raised by Barton’s attorneys, including new concerns about blood spatter evidence used to convict him.
Barton was convicted and sentenced to death in 2006. It was the fifth trial in the case. Barton has maintained his innocence.
Since 1973, 167 people have been exonerated from U.S. death rows on innocence grounds.
Walter Barton was tried five separate times – the first two trials were declared mistrial – the first before the trial started and the second after a jury could not reach a verdict, the next two trials resulted in convictions and death sentences which were overturned on appeal due to prosecutorial misconduct – the fifth and final trial resulted in a conviction and death sentence in 2006.
That last conviction was upheld by a 4-3 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2007.
Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff, in his dissenting opinion, wrote: “From the first mistrial in 1993 through three completed trials, post-conviction proceedings, multiple appeals, there is a trail of mishaps and misdeeds that, taken together, reflect poorly on the criminal justice system.”
Barton faces execution despite expert testimony never heard by a trial jury refuting the prosecution’s expert witness’ analysis of the blood on Barton’s clothes, confirming Barton’s explanation – evidence that would have been “compelling” to three trial jurors’ recent affidavits. Other evidence, undermining the credibility of a key witness, a jailhouse informant, was never presented at trial.
Kristina Roth, the senior program officer of Criminal Justice Programs at Amnesty International USA condemned the ruling, saying “this is not justice, it is cruelty.”
“The planned execution of Walter Barton demonstrates why the death penalty is far too flawed to ever fix. Barton maintains his innocence after it took five trials which lasted over a decade to convict and sentence him. He faces execution despite the existence of expert opinion and evidence, never heard by a trial jury, which counters key elements that led to his conviction. This is not justice, it is cruelty,” Roth said.
“Missouri seems to willingly accept the grave risk of executing a person that could be innocent. We don’t. Walter Barton deserves better.”
“Walter Barton’s execution would be the first in this country during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than focusing all the state’s efforts, energies, and resources on keeping everyone healthy and slowing the spread of the virus, authorities in Missouri are engaging in actions that serve only to turn back progress on death penalty abolition.”
Amnesty International USA called on Missouri State Governor Michael L. Parson to grant Walter Barton clemency.
“The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution. Amnesty International believes that the death penalty should be abolished, once and for all,” the human rights organization said.