25 Years Later, Ozark Murder Case Back Before Supreme Court

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gladys Kuehler was viciously murdered in her trailer home in Ozark, Missouri on an October afternoon in 1991.  The man who has been convicted three times for her death, is back before the state Supreme Court this week with another appeal.

In his latest appeal to avoid the death penalty, Walter Barton, now 60, claims he was abandoned by his public defender after his 2006 conviction.  It was the third time a Missouri jury found him guilty of the grisly murder of his former landlady.

The case comes before the state Supreme Court Tuesday, where judges will hear arguments from Barton’s lawyers and state prosecutors.

This latest appeal is only the latest twist along a lengthy path Barton’s case has taken since he was first found guilty of the grisly death of his former landlady.  Barton is now among the inmates who have been on Missouri’s death row the longest.

Now Barton is appealing claiming he was abandoned by his attorney during the post-conviction appeal process, effectively denying him his constitutional right to due process.

Read appeal brief here

Read State’s response here

Case history

Over the 25 year history of the case, Barton has been granted several changes of venue.  There have been two mistrials, a trial and conviction followed by a reversal and remand by the Missouri Supreme Court, and a second trial ending in conviction which was upheld by the Supreme Court but later thrown out by a lower court. Barton’s fifth and latest trial was held in Cass County, where the jury also found him guilty and recommended the death penalty. Barton appealed, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentenced again.

(source: Court Opinions

State v. Barton, 936 S.W.2d 781 (Mo. banc 1996) (remanding for new trial); State v. Barton, 998 S.W.2d 19 (Mo. banc 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1121 (2000); Barton v. State, 76 S.W.3d 280 (Mo. banc 2002) (reversing denial of post‐conviction relief); State v. Barton, 240 S.W.3d 693 (Mo. banc 2007), cert. denied, 129 S.Ct. 79 (2008)

The crime

Gladys Kuehler, 81, managed the Riverview Mobile Home Park in Ozark, Missouri in October, 1991. Her trailer was a busy place, with family, friends, tenants and business partners making a constant stream of visits most days.

It was the same on October 9.  According to testimony in all four of Barton’s trials, Kuehler had visits from Carol Horton, one tenant of the park, who often helped Kuehler with errands and chores because she was limited to moving around with a cane.  Also visiting the day of the murder were Bill and Dorothy Pickering, the owners of the trailer park, who came by to pick up rent receipts. And Walter Barton was also in and out of Kuehler’s trailer that day, stopping by to ask to borrow money.

Kuehler was last seen about 2:45 by Ted and Sharon Bartlett, former residents of the trailer park who stopped by to visit  Kuehler.

Family and friends made several attempts to reach Kuehler after 3:00 p.m., but could not get an answer on the phone or at the door.  About 7:30 p.m., Kuehler’s granddaughter, Debra Selvidge and Horton flagged down an Ozark police office, who called a locksmith to open the door to Kuehler’s trailer.

Selvidge and Horton, went inside, followed by Barton. Selvidge found Kuehler’s body in the bedroom.  Kuehler’s partially nude body lay on the floor between the bed and the wall. She had been brutally attacked with a knife.  Her throat was slit, she had been stabbed more than 50 times, including 23 times in the back and there were also two X-shaped slash wounds to the abdomen.

Barton was almost immediately a suspect after small blood stains were found on his clothes and DNA testing determined one of the stains was Kuehler’s blood.  Barton argued it must have gotten on his clothes when they discovered the body.
Barton also admitted he answered the phone in Kuehler’s trailer about 3:15 when the owner of the trailer park called for her.

(source for crime timeline: official court record)

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