Missouri carried out the pandemic era’s first execution in the U.S., after the Supreme Court denied a prisoner’s stay bid that claimed the virus prevented his legal team from gathering evidence that he said could undercut his 2006 murder conviction.
The high court rejected Walter Barton’s plea late Tuesday afternoon. The execution went ahead as planned, and he was pronounced dead at 6:10 p.m. local time.
Other states have postponed executions in light of virus concerns.
The justices denied Barton’s stay request and rejected his certiorari petition without any public dissent.
In a filing Monday, Barton had told the court that pandemic restrictions stopped him from fully investigating his innocence claims, by stymieing his team’s ability to find and interview jurors from his trial.
He was convicted for what the state called the “vicious stabbing murder of an 81-year-old acquaintance.”
Jurors that had been found and interviewed had attested to “compelling” evidence not presented at trial that contradicted the state’s blood spatter evidence, Barton told the justices in court papers on Monday.
He also said the execution itself would violate assembly restrictions put in place for the pandemic.
Opposing any execution delay, Missouri officials said Barton waited too long to bring his claims. They cited the high court’s 2019 decision in Bucklew v. Precythe, where the five-justice majority chided the death row prisoner for what it deemed dilatory litigation tactics.
In his reply brief on Tuesday, the final filing to the justices before they rejected his appeals, Barton said that “when a condemned man petitions this Court just a day before his execution is scheduled to occur, it is too easy for his opponents to claim that this Court should shun the arguments and scorn the petitioner due to the ‘last minute’ way the matter has been presented.”
Sometimes such claims are fair, Barton conceded, “but not this time,” he said, insisting it was the state that delayed the matter over the years by way of prosecutorial misconduct.
In his final statement before he was executed, he proclaimed: “I, Walter ‘Arkie’ Barton, am innocent and they are executing an innocent man!!”
The case is Barton v. Stange, U.S., No. 19-8483.