Ex-officer facing 2nd trial pleads guilty in wife's death
LEBANON, OH (WOIO) - Former Springboro Lt. Thomas "Jim" Barton plead guilty Thursday to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated burglary charges in his wife's death.
Barton, 61, was sentenced to prison in 2005 in the death of his wife Vickie, who was found raped and shot in her home in 1995 after a burglary attempt. His conviction was overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct and questions about witness testimony in April. He was released on bond and was scheduled for a new trial on Nov. 3.
Vickie's murder went unsolved for years. More information in the case finally came in 1998, when Gary Henson, arrested for burglary and drug possession, told police that he knew who shot Barton's wife.
According to Henson, Barton hired his half-brother William Phelps and an unidentified accomplice to burglarize the home in order to scare Vickie into moving off of their farm. Prosecutors alleged that Barton did this because he thought he would have a better chance of becoming police chief if he lived within Springboro city limits.
Henson said Phelps panicked during the robbery and shot Vickie in the head, later committing suicide due to guilt over her death. He said that it was Phelps' accomplice who raped Vickie. However, police found no DNA match between Phelps and evidence left Vickie's body, and the unidentified accomplice was never found.
In 2003, a cold case team reinvestigating Vickie's murder discovered a clue in the 911 call from Barton after finding his wife's body. Police said that the cop can be heard saying, "I gotta call Phelp, man," referencing Phelps. Barton says that he was saying "I gotta call fo-help," and was just slurring the words together.
Barton, who denied that he ever met Henson or Phelps, took a polygraph test, but failed. He was arrested in April of 2004 and ended up being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in his wife's death. During the trial, numerous friends and family members, including Vickie's mother, defended Barton.
"I could not believe that that jury came back and said he's guilty," Vickie's mother, Mary Jane, said at the time. "Because he's not."
The case was not finished, though. A fellow jail mate of Henson's contacted prosecutors saying that Henson was never convinced of Barton's guilt, while another jail mate said that Henson told him he only testified because prosecutors forced him too, threatening him with obstruction charges. Another prisoner said Henson admitted that Barton was innocent.
Their testimony lead to an appeal from Barton, and he was granted a retrial in April before entering the guilty plea on Thursday.
Barton's plea is an Alford plea, meaning that he does not admit guilt, but concedes prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him. Barton was sentenced to 11 years, but had already served all but 60 days of the sentence. He will get to serve the remaining time on probation out of prison.
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