Supreme Court denies stay of execution in Missouri in what would be first capital punishment since pandemic

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a stay of execution for a Missouri inmate set to die by lethal injection Tuesday evening.

Walter Barton, 64, was sentenced to death for murdering an elderly mobile home park owner in 1991 in Ozark, Missouri.

It would be the first execution in the U.S. since the COVID-19 outbreak. The last was March 5 in Alabama. Many prisons nationwide have ordered social distancing and other changes to their correctional policies to prevent spread of the virus.

The justices, without comment, denied Barton’s request to halt the execution.

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Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Monday that he had not heard anything to make him reconsider the execution, which he said would “move forward as scheduled.” A federal appeals court on Sunday overturned a 30-day stay of execution granted by a judge two days earlier.

FILE - This Feb. 18, 2014, file photo provided by Missouri Department of Corrections, shows death row inmate Walter Barton, convicted of killing an 81-year-old mobile home park manager in 1991. The pause in U.S. executions during the coronavirus pandemic likely will end Tuesday, May 19, 2020, with the scheduled lethal injection of Barton. Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Monday, May 18, 2020, that he had not heard anything to make him reconsider the execution, which he said would “move forward as scheduled.” (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP, File)

FILE – This Feb. 18, 2014, file photo provided by Missouri Department of Corrections, shows death row inmate Walter Barton, convicted of killing an 81-year-old mobile home park manager in 1991. The pause in U.S. executions during the coronavirus pandemic likely will end Tuesday, May 19, 2020, with the scheduled lethal injection of Barton. Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Monday, May 18, 2020, that he had not heard anything to make him reconsider the execution, which he said would “move forward as scheduled.” (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP, File)

Gladys Kuehler operated a mobile home park in a town near Springfield. In October 1991, she was found dead in her bedroom. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and stabbed more than 50 times.

Barton has long said he was innocent, and his case has been tied up for years due to appeals, mistrials and two overturned convictions.

Other states, including Ohio, Tennessee and Texas, have postponed executions after attorneys argued that pandemic-related closures prevented them from securing records or conducting interviews for clemency petitions and court appeals.

Attorneys also expressed concerns about interacting with individuals and possibly being exposed to the virus. And, they’ve argued that the execution process, which includes placing prison workers and witnesses in close proximity to each other, could lead to spread of COVID-19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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