Missouri is set to put a man to death Tuesday (May 19) in connection with a 1991 murder in what is the first American execution since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

The convict’s lawyer has faulted the judgment questioning the reliability of the evidence that led to his conviction. The execution will be the first in the U.S. since March 5, Associated Press reported.

Walter Barton, 64, is scheduled to die by lethal injection, a move that other states postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He was tried at least five times between 1993 and 2006 for beating, sexually abusing, and fatally stabbing Gladys Kuehler, 81, a trailer park operator, in the town of Ozark, near Springfield.

The state used a jailhouse informant and blood splatter evidence to convict Barton in his final hearing. Three jurors involved in the 2006 trial based on new blood spatter evidence raised doubt about his guilt, his attorney Fred Duchardt Jr. said Wednesday (May 13). Governor Mike Parson, however, overturned a petition for clemency pushed forward jointly by The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Parson’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, said the execution will go as scheduled.

The state’s Supreme Court last month denied the convict’s plea for a hearing to prove his innocence and neurological ailment, The Kansas City Star reported.

Duchardt, who also has an appeal pending in federal court said, the blood that was found on Barton’s cloth came after he found Kuehler dead. Barton’s defense team hired a blood spatter expert who conceded the assailant would have far more bloodstains in his clothes than Barton had. The jury foreman based on the new “compelling” evidence said that he would be uncomfortable endorsing the death penalty.

Duchardt said he was facing challenges to contact other surviving jurors due to the coronavirus shutdown.

The execution also poses the question of whether it would be safe to gather people to carry out the task amid the pandemic. Karen Pojmann, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Corrections, told Slate that the state will ensure public health safety during the execution by means of “robust viral containment plan and strict safety protocols.”

Execution Chamber
The death chamber in Huntsville, Texas, June 23, 2000. Joe Raedle/Newsmakers