First Person Executed during COVID-19 Pandemic Put to Death by Lethal Injection in Missouri

May 19, 2020

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The state of Missouri executed Walter Barton by lethal injection this evening, the first execution to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Barton, who had five trials before he was ultimately convicted for the 1991 murder of Gladys Kuehler, has always maintained his innocence. In the years since his conviction, new blood splatter evidence has been collected by his defense team. Three jurors who convicted him signed affidavits saying that the new evidence would have impacted their deliberations.

Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, issued the following statement:

“The fact that the state of Missouri carried out the execution of Walter Barton tonight, as we face a deadly pandemic, is unconscionable. By moving forward, the state not only put the health of prison staff at risk and forced them to defy public health guidance, it also refused to consider new, persuasive evidence that Barton may be innocent. We have nearly 50 years of data to show the death penalty is arbitrary, error-prone, biased, and costly. The continued use of the death penalty has no place in any society that values human dignity and justice.”

Sara Baker, policy director with the ACLU of Missouri, issued the following statement:

“Missouri’s use of the death penalty should give us all deep pause. In the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed Missouri’s refusal to grant compassionate release for those most at risk for COVID-19 in its correctional facilities, pass deeply troubling crime legislation that will balloon its prison population, and willingly execute a man in the midst of a global pandemic. Today’s execution is a dark and tragic reminder that Missouri’s criminal justice system is unabashedly flawed and rife with misplaced priorities.”

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