Missouri moving ahead with execution plans

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)

O'FALLON, Mo. – Missouri is moving ahead with plans to execute a man next week, despite new concerns about key evidence that led to his conviction, and despite concerns about the coronavirus that prompted other states to postpone lethal injections.

Walter Barton, 64, is scheduled to die by injection Tuesday for killing 81-year-old trailer park operator Gladys Kuehler in 1991. She was beaten, sexually assaulted and stabbed more than 50 times in the town of Ozark, near Springfield. The execution would be the first in the U.S. since March 5.

Three jurors involved in Barton's 2006 trial now express misgivings, based on new blood spatter evidence, Barton’s attorney, Fred Duchardt Jr., said Wednesday. The NAACP and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty submitted more than 5,000 petition signatures Wednesday to Republican Gov. Mike Parson, urging him to grant clemency.

Parson’s spokeswoman Kelli Jones said the governor's office anticipates that that the execution will go on as scheduled. She declined further comment.

Duchardt also has an appeal pending in federal court.

Key to Barton's conviction was blood that was found on his clothing. Duchardt said the blood got there after Barton and others found Kuehler dead.

A blood spatter expert retained by Barton's defense team concluded that the assailant would have had far more blood on his clothing. Duchardt said three jurors recently signed affidavits calling the new evidence “compelling” and saying it would have affected their deliberations. The jury foreman said, based on the evidence, he would have been “uncomfortable” recommending the death penalty.

Duchardt said he is trying to reach the other surviving jurors, but the coronavirus shutdown has slowed that effort and created other logistical issues. For example, with public buildings closed, members of Barton's defense team interviewed two jurors in a parking lot, he said.