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For First Time in US During Pandemic, an Execution

Missouri puts Walter Barton to death
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 20, 2020 12:06 AM CDT

(Newser) – Many states have postponed scheduled executions amid the coronavirus pandemic, but on Tuesday night, an inmate was put to death for the first time since March 5. Walter Barton, 64, was convicted of murdering his former landlord, 81-year-old Gladys Kuehler, in 1991, USA Today reports. Kuehler operated a mobile home park in Missouri, and Barton, who was living in his car at the time, was reportedly visiting Kuehler's granddaughter and a neighbor on the night she was stabbed to death after being beaten and sexually assaulted; the trio found her dead in her room. A small amount of her blood was found on Barton's clothing, but he maintained his innocence throughout five trials, including mistrials and appeals, the last of which ended with a death sentence in 2006, NBC News reports. The Telegraph reports he twice saw convictions overturned.

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The Innocence Project, Amnesty International, and others had worked to halt the execution, raising concerns about the blood spatter evidence used by the prosecution; that type of forensic analysis has seen its accuracy questioned recently and there were questions of whether Barton's defense team properly countered it. An independent bloodstain analysis ordered by Barton's current lawyers found that his clothes didn't have as much blood on them as they would have had he stabbed Kuehler 52 times. One of his attorneys also got affidavits from three jurors who said they now have doubts after convicting Barton. However, a federal appeals court on Sunday declined to delay the execution, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to intervene, and he was put to death via lethal injection. Missouri officials say witnesses' temperatures were checked, masks were required, and they were split into three rooms to maintain social distancing. (Read more execution stories.)

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