High court won't reinstate conviction of cop in wife's death

AP News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2016 12:39 PM

CINCINNATI (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider reinstating the conviction of a former police official charged in connection with his wife's 1995 death in Ohio.

The justices declined to disturb a 6th U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Cincinnati last year that said authorities improperly withheld evidence that could have helped former Springboro police Lt. Thomas "Jim" Barton discredit charges linking him to a botched burglary. Authorities who charged Barton said the botched burglary resulted in his wife's death.

The appeals panel had ordered a new trial. Warren County prosecutors must now release or retry Barton.

Messages left for Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell and Barton's attorney, Christopher Pagan, weren'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 Ohio attorney general's office had no immediate comment on the high court's decision.

Authorities who charged Barton after a cold-case team in 2003 examined the death of his wife, Vickie, contended that Barton paid to stage a burglary in their home. He supposedly wanted to scare his wife into leaving their rural horse farm to move into the city, with the apparent motive being that it would help his chances of becoming Springboro's police chief.

A jury convicted Barton in 2005 of complicity to involuntary manslaughter and complicity to aggravated burglary. He was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison. Barton, 60, has been in prison for more than a decade.

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, a case police reopened before Barton's trial, court records show. The judges said having that information could have led the defense to discover admissible evidence.

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Associated Press writer Sam Hananel in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.