High court won’t reinstate conviction of cop in wife’s death
CINCINNATI (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider reinstating the conviction of an Ohio police officer charged in the death of his wife in a botched burglary that authorities said he paid to have staged.
The 6th U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled last year that authorities improperly withheld evidence that could have helped former Springboro police Lt. Thomas “Jim” Barton beat charges that he was involved in the 1995 burglary. He supposedly wanted to scare his wife, Vickie, into moving from their rural home to Springboro, according to authorities who charged Barton.
The appeals panel had ordered a new trial for Barton, who was convicted in 2005 of complicity to involuntary manslaughter and complicity to aggravated burglary and sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.
Prosecutors must now release or retry the 60-year-old, who has been in prison for more than a decade. Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said he’ll likely retry Barton if witnesses from the original trail are available.
A message left for Barton’s attorney, Christopher Pagan, wasn’t immediately returned Monday.
The Ohio attorney general’s office had asked the Supreme Court to resolve conflicts in lower-court rulings. Barton’s attorney contended that the state arguments were fact-specific and didn’t raise a legal issue worth the Supreme Court’s attention.
The attorney general’s office had no immediate comment on the high court’s decision.
Authorities charged Barton after a cold-case team in 2003 examined his wife’s death. They contended that Barton’s apparent motive for wanting to scare her into moving was to try to help his chances of becoming Springboro’s police chief.
The unanimous ruling last year by the 6th Circuit panel said the state’s case relied heavily on a witness who presented an “unsupported, shifting and somewhat fantastical” story at trial, and suppression of evidence made it more difficult for Barton to discredit the state’s theory. Authorities had said a career criminal, Gary Henson, implicated his own half brother, William Phelps, in the crime with an unidentified accomplice. Phelps killed himself a few months after the slaying. No one else was ever charged.
The appeals panel also said Barton’s defense should have received information about police interviews with another family whose rural home in Warren County was burglarized, court records show. The judges said having that information could have led the defense to discover admissible evidence.
Associated Press writer Sam Hananel in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.