Who is Walter Barton? A man set to die for a murder committed in 1991

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Walter Barton, a 64-year-old Missouri death row inmate, has been cleared by a federal appeals court to be executed this week after almost 30 years of court battles.

According to the Associated Press, his execution would be the first in the U.S. since March 5th and is scheduled despite concerns about the coronavirus that prompted other states to postpone lethal injections.

What did Barton do?

In 1991, Barton was living in a trailer at the Riverview Mobile Home Park in Ozark, Missouri. The mobile home park was operated by then 81-year-old Gladys Kuehler. According to court documents, Gladys was a busy person at the park. Family, friends, tenants, and business partners would make a constant stream of visits.

On October 9, 1991, Barton was one of those visitors.  According to testimony in four of Barton’s trials, Gladys had visits from Carol Horton, one tenant of the park, who often helped Gladys 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.

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

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

Court records say, 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 bloodstains 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. He was to be evicted for not paying rent days before her death.

What has Happened Since 1991?

Over the past 27 years, Barton has:

  • Been granted a change of venue several times
  • Two mistrials
  • Trial and convention, followed by a reversal and remand by the Missouri Supreme Court
  • A second trial ended in a conviction that the Supreme Court upheld but was later thrown out by a lower court
  • A fifth trial where the jury also found him guilty and recommended the death penalty
  • Barton appealed the fifth trial, and the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentenced again
  • Barton submitted a final supreme court appeal on incompetence, but that was denied.

Below is a timeline of his court appearances.

How will Barton Die?

Barton’s execution is to be at a prison in Bonne Terre, south of St. Louis. He is set to die by lethal injection. According to the Associated Press, several people will be there to support Barton and no witnesses for the victim plan to attend.

FILE – This Feb. 18, 2014, file photo, released by Missouri Department of Corrections, shows death row inmate Walter Barton, convicted of killing an 81-year-old mobile home park manager nearly three decades ago now faces execution in May. The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 13, 2020, set a May 19, execution date for Barton (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP, File)

As of right now, there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases that have been reported at the prison. Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann told the Associated Press everyone entering the prison would have their temperatures checked and will be offered face coverings. Witnesses will also be divided into three rooms.

Barton is now among the inmates who have been on Missouri’s death row the longest.

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