Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Barton's new wife says he's innocent

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - Elaine Barton shifted uncomfortably as she sat in the Warren County Jail waiting room, incredulous that her husband, an ex-police officer, had spent Easter weekend in jail. He had been arrested for alleged involvement in the 1995 slaying of his first wife, Vickie.

Former Springboro Police Lieutenant Jim Barton, in court Monday morning before Warren County Magistrate Andrew Haselbach for a bond hearing.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
Married to Thomas James "Jim" Barton for a year, Elaine Barton on Monday said her husband, a longtime Springboro lieutenant, had pushed for further investigation of the unsolved slaying - a fact authorities confirmed Monday. A grand jury late Friday indicted Jim Barton on five charges and officers arrested him at his Springboro home.

Barton's lawyer, John H. Rion of Dayton, persuaded court officials to hold a hearing Monday, two days earlier than planned. Magistrate W. Andrew Hasselbach set bond at $55,000 rather than the $500,000 prosecutors had sought.

Just after arranging with a bondsman to post the lower bond, Elaine Barton said she is convinced of her husband's innocence. She did not know him at the time of Vickie Barton's death.

"We'll prove that Jim had absolutely nothing, nothing, to do with this crime," she declared. "He spent 26 years of his life fighting crime. There is no way that he would participate in a crime. No way."

During a five-minute hearing Monday, Jim Barton, 48, pleaded not guilty to two counts of complicity to involuntary manslaughter, two counts of complicity to aggravated burglary and a count of complicity to burglary.

As he briskly walked away from the jail with his wife, the 6-foot-5 ex-officer politely but firmly declined to comment. He wouldn't discuss an interview he gave a crew from CBS-TV's 48 Hours news program at Rion's office on Friday.

Rion noted the unusual time of his client's indictment, 6:38 p.m., stamped in blue ink, two hours after the court's closing time Friday.

Rion suggested authorities timed the action to grab more publicity from the national TV crew.

Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel denied that.

The grand jury was convened when the multi-agency Cold Case Squad, which reopened the case a year ago, was ready, she said. Officers decided to arrest Barton immediately because they saw him packing for an out-of-town trip and thought he might be fleeing, Hutzel said, adding: "There are no other considerations."

Rion said the Bartons weren't planning to flee, but wanted to be away from the area on Sunday, the ninth anniversary of Vickie Barton's slaying.

Rion said he wants more specifics about the allegations his client faces. "It looks like a smorgasbord indictment," he said.

Hutzel declined to discuss what role Barton may have played in the crime. Other people remain under investigation, she said; no one else has been arrested or charged.

Around 1998, Barton sent a letter to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, asking that agency to review previous investigative work in the case, Sheriff Tom Ariss confirmed.

David Shotwell, a retired sheriff's deputy who sometimes hangs out at the courthouse, said he had known Barton since he was 14 years old and remains stunned that the homicide even happened - let alone seeing Barton accused of involvement in it.

"Everyone just couldn't believe it when it first happened. They both had such good careers," Shotwell said. "Then everyone was just in shock, especially when it (the investigation) started pointing to him."

The Barton file

April 11, 1995: Springboro Police Lt. Thomas "Jim" Barton calls Warren County 911 emergency dispatchers and reports finding his 40-year-old wife, Vickie, dead in their Franklin Township farmhouse. Vickie Barton, a nurse, taught nursing students in Kettering, a Dayton suburb. She had been shot.

September 1995: Investigators say they have ruled out Barton as a suspect because they had accounted for his actions the day his wife died.

December 1998: After deputies received a tip that a dead Middletown man, William Lee Phelps, may have been connected to Vickie Barton's slaying, investigators exhumed his body. He had committed suicide four months after the slaying. However, DNA samples from Phelps did not match crime-scene evidence, investigators said.

April 2003: Authorities from several Warren County police agencies form a "Cold Case Squad" to reinvestigate unsolved homicides; the Barton case becomes a top priority. Jim Barton undergoes cold-case investigative training.

June 2003: Investigators release new descriptions of items that were apparently stolen from the Barton farmhouse, including a .22-caliber gun, possibly the weapon used to kill Vickie Barton.

January 2004: Authorities reveal that Barton and Waynesville Officer Tom Barber are among at least three people who have important information about the crime; both officers are suspended from their jobs. Investigators also disclose they found proof that Phelps had been at the crime scene the day Vickie Barton was killed; they allege Barton uttered Phelps' name when he called 911 to report his wife was killed.

February 2004: Barton, 48, resigned from the Springboro force two weeks after he was suspended; Barber, 51, was fired from the Waynesville force for missing meetings with the police chief.

April 2004: Two days before the ninth anniversary of the slaying, a Warren County grand jury indicts the former lieutenant on five charges alleging he was involved in her death but wasn't the gunman. Barton is freed after his new wife posts $55,000 bond.

Source: Enquirer research, Warren County officials


E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

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