Attorneys for Walter Barton were hoping the Supreme Court would grant a stay of their client’s execution in light of the ongoing public health crisis — but that wish didn’t pan out.
Early Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied the 64-year-old inmate’s request to get off death row, Fox News reported — and the state of Missouri carried out Barton’s execution on Tuesday evening.
A series of appeals
The crime of which Barton was convicted was horrific, but his case was complicated.
According to Fox, Barton was convicted of the murder of Gladys Kuehler, an elderly woman who operated a mobile home park near Springfield, Missouri. In October of 1991, authorities had found Kuehler beaten, stabbed more than 50 times, sexually assaulted, and dead in her bedroom, Fox reported.
Barton was reportedly Kuehler’s tenant. According to NBC News, authorities found blood on his clothes following the incident.
Still, Barton has maintained his innocence throughout years of appeals, including a total of five trials, as NBC reported. His lawyers were hoping to overturn a death sentence that was first handed down in 2006.
The clock ran out on Tuesday, though — and the Supreme Court was Barton’s last hope to see the sunrise on Wednesday morning.
Barton was executed Tuesday evening via lethal injection, according to NBC.
Making the case
The execution of Barton was the nation’s first since the coronavirus pandemic lockdown began; NBC reported that Alabama was the last state to execute a prisoner, which it did in early March.
As Barton’s attorneys argued before the high court, many states have ceased holding executions due to the social distancing guidelines now in place throughout the country. They said the execution process would require prison workers and witnesses to violate those guidelines, putting their lives at risk.
The plea fell on deaf ears, though: according to Fox, the Supreme Court denied the appeal, and opted not to write a written opinion on the matter.
NBC News reported that prison officials did take steps to mitigate the spread of disease, including by “submitting prison visitors to temperature checks and dividing them into three rooms for social distancing.” Elsewhere across the country, prisoners have been released early due to coronavirus concerns, as the Los Angeles Times notes.