Lt. Jim Barton
This case aired October 29, 2005 on the CBS News show "48 Hours Mystery." Jim Barton was a Lieutenant with the police department in Springboro, Ohio. On April 11, 1995 he returned home to find that his wife Vickie had been murdered execution style with three gun shot wounds to the head. The case remained unsolved for three years. In 1998, the police got a break when a career criminal named Gary Henson told them that his half-brother William Phelps killed Vickie Barton. According to Henson, Phelps and an unknown accomplice burglarized the Barton home. Phelps panicked and shot Vickie Barton. Four months after killing Vickie, Phelps committed suicide. Because Henson knew details of the crime that had not been released to the public his story sounded believable. However, DNA evidence found at the crime scene did not match William Phelps. Therefore, the case remained opened as to who killed Vickie Barton.
In 2003, a cold case team took another look at Vickie Barton's murder. Within six weeks they found something that had been overlooked. When Jim Barton found his wife had been shot to death he called 911. On the 911 tape, Jim Barton can be heard saying "I gotta call Phelp man." This appeared to tie Barton with William Phelps. Barton would claim the 911 operator was not helping him and that he slurred his words and stated "I gotta call fo-help man." Convinced that he said "Phelp" the cold case team went back to Phelps's half-brother Gary Henson who provided police with additional information. Henson now claimed that Barton hired Phelps to stage a burglary at Barton's house and to scare his wife Vickie. It was known that Barton wanted to become the Police Chief and there was an unwritten rule that the Chief should reside within the city limits. Since Barton lived outside the city limits, the police theorized that Barton wanted his wife scared into moving into town.
In April 2004, Jim Barton was arrested for causing Vickie Barton's death. His trial began on February 7, 2005. Eleven days later the jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated burglary. Jim Barton was sentenced to 15 to 50 years in prison. Barton maintains his innocence. Let's examine some of his statements given to Peter Van Sant during the taping of "48 Hours Mystery."
Within the first five minutes of the show we have some red flags. When Barton describes coming home and finding his wife had been murdered, he states:
"I pulled down our farm lane. The garage door was standing open and the interior door was standing open as well. This seemed a little bit odd. "
The word "standing" is a unique word. When it appears in a statement referring to an inanimate object it often indicates there is tension and possible deception. Doors are not capable of standing. Someone has to perform the action of opening the door. It is theorized that the writer performed the action or he knows who opened the door. This causes him to unknowingly use the word "standing." Remember the shortest sentence is the best sentence. "The garage door was open" would be the best sentence. When people add extra words they are giving us extra information. For most people, seeing your garage door open is not going to cause any tension especially if you know a family member is home. If Jim Barton hired someone to burglarize his house and scare his wife, this would explain why he is tense as he approached his home.
"I didn't know this Phelps. He may not had anything to do with this crime at all."
The word "this" indicates specificity but it also shows closeness. Why does he use language that brings him close to Phelps? He could have stated "I didn't know Phelps" which is a shorter sentence and a better sentence. We also have the extra words "at all" which indicates deception. To the listener, they are not needed but Barton needs to put them in his statement to make it sound believable. This reminds me of Tonya Harding. "I don't know for sure anything about what's going on at all." It turned out she did know something.
Van Sant: What do you think happened that day? Why was Vickie Barton your wife murdered?
Barton: I don't know. I've run that scenario through my mind many times. I have no absolutely no idea.
Later in the interview.
Van Sant: Is Gary Henson a liar?
Barton: Absolutely he's a liar. I never knew Will Phelps. I have no idea who these people are.
Pay close attention to the phrase "no idea" when it appears in a statement. A person may not know exactly what happened but most people have a clue or an educated guess. It is easier for a deceptive person to say "I have no idea" versus "I don't know" which is an outright lie. Barton has run the scenario of his wife's death through his mind "many times" yet he has "no idea" what happened. I would say it is impossible for him to not have formed an idea of what happened.
In denying he knew William Phelps and Gary Henson, he uses this same language. Barton is a police officer in a small town. Henson is a career criminal. We would expect Barton to know something about Henson yet he tells us he has "no idea" who he is.
Van Sant: Did you get a fair trial?
Barton: I don't think I did. No. I had no involvement in this crime. Absolutely had no involvement in this crime. I'm innocent.
Barton answers the question with a "no." However, the word "think" shows us he is not committed to his answer of "no." He did not state "No, I did not get a fair trial." There is a part of Barton that believes he did get a fair trial.
Barton declares he is innocent which is a common statement made by deceptive people. Deceptive people will deny the conclusion that they are guilty by stating they are innocent. However, most deceptive people will not deny the action (the crime) and state they did not do it. I do not recall Barton every saying in this interview that he did not hire William Phelps to scare his wife. If he did say that, CBS did not include it in their broadcast.
On the 911 tape, Burton states "They broke in through my garage."
Lt. George Hunter was the first officer to arrive at the Barton residence. He testified that Barton told him,
"They shot her man. They've killed her. Why did they have to kill her those murdering bastards?"
You can learn a lot by looking at the pronouns. Did Barton use the pronoun "they" because he knew he had hired two people to scare his wife? Or, is it because as he claims he was talking about criminals in general? Most people would probably assume it was a man who committed this crime but not men. He also asked a question. "Why did they have to kill her those murdering bastards?" This is a question that anyone could ask when a loved one is murdered. However, it is a question that may arise after one has time to reflect on what happened. Barton raises this question as soon as he finds his wife is dead. This points to the theory that Barton hired these guys to only scare his wife.
In case you did not see this episode of "48 Hours Mystery," here is some things mentioned in the show:
- Barton failed a polygraph test.
- Less than 10 fingerprints were found in the house indicating the house was wiped clean.
- The house looked like it had been burglarized but guns and jewelry were not taken.
- A waitress testified she saw Phelps and Barton together in a diner.
- The 911 tape of Barton saying "I gotta call Phelp man."
It appears Barton never took the stand in his own defense since there was no mention of this on the show.
When we look at the evidence and listen to what Barton was saying and not saying, it would appear that the jury got it right.