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Missouri going forward with scheduled execution, first in US since COVID-19 pandemic

Missouri is scheduled to carry out the first execution in the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

On Sunday, the Eighth District Court of Appeals struck down a 30-day stay of execution granted by a federal judge last week to Walter Barton. Gov. Mike Parson confirmed he has no plans to issue an execution reprieve, despite multiple organizations calling on him to do so. 

Barton is scheduled to be put to death Tuesday evening.

Barton was convicted in the 1991 slaying of 81-year-old Gladys Kuehler. Kuehler was found beaten, sexually assaulted, and stabbed to death. It took a number of trials before Barton was convicted in 2006. 

Since his conviction, questions regarding the evidence have come up, including about the bloodstains on the shirt he was wearing the night of the murder. The defense has held that the amount of blood on Barton’s shirt was small compared to the amount of blood lost by the victim and what would have likely gotten onto the killer. 

In April, the state’s highest court denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus as well as a motion for a stay of execution for Barton. Both petitions were denied with the court declaring Barton did not have adequate evidence to support his claims. 

Several states have delayed executions in the past few months in deference to the coronavirus outbreak. Executions have been stayed, rescheduled, or given reprieves since the last execution was carried out in Alabama on March 5. Not all of these stays have been a direct result of the health crisis. 

Despite the urging of multiple organizations, the controversial evidence, and the defense’s claim of incompetence since Barton has suffered brain damage from strokes, the execution remains on schedule. 

The first execution during COVID-19 has drawn extensive attention from both the media and various advocacy organizations. Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty is a nationwide organization questioning the role of the death penalty in America. 

“Missouri’s plan to resume executions in the midst of a public health crisis and budget shortfalls is actually perfectly indicative of the entire death penalty system – ineffective, unwise, financially reckless, and mostly carried out symbolically to appear tough on crime while actually just wasting resources that could be used to make our communities safer,” said national manager Hannah Cox. 

Another group hoping to stop the execution is holding “A Caravan for Compassion and Life” in Jefferson City Tuesday. The event will include a line of cars traveling around historic sites before participants head to the Capitol to deliver a letter to the Governor’s Office urging him to grant Barton clemency. 

“Holding executions during the pandemic presents really important moral and public policy issues,”  Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) Executive Director Robert Dunham previously told The Missouri Times. “There is nothing about a coronavirus stay that prevents the state from carrying out the execution later when it is safe to do so.”

Barton will be the 90th person to be put to death in Missouri since the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the use of capital punishment in 1976 and the second under Parson’s administration.

The last execution in the U.S. was carried out in Alabama on March 5.

This story has been updated.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.