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Drug Court wins national essay contest Friday, 23 August 2019 21:11

The Jackson County Drug Court was founded in 1989 and has won the Sue Bell Cobb award for the best Drug Court in the state.

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Five items on the sales tax budget were reversed at the last Scottsboro City Council meeting held on August 12, 2019.

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The murder trial of Barry Whitton is now underway. Today in Judge John Graham’s courtroom opening statements were made.

During opening State Assistant Attorney General John Hensley addressed the jury, compromised of ten men and four women. Hensley began by stating that they would offer evidence, which will show that on January 20, 1998 Michelle Whitton’s body was found in a shallow grave. The back of her head had been brutally beaten. According to the state, her body had been dragged through a wooded path to a shallow grave. Hensley stated that Michelle had been married to the Defendant Barry Whitton for 6 years prior to being reported missing. She was “a loyal friend and loving mother” according to prosecutors. Hensley stated that this case is about accountability and justice. According to the prosecution Michelle Whitton went shopping on December 6, 1997 with her grandmother in Huntsville. She and her grandmother spent time in Huntsville and ate at Cracker Barrel. Michelle was last seen wearing her favorite pink sweatshirt. Prosecutors further stated that after their trip Michelle dropped her grandmother off at around 845 p.m. and returned to her Dutton home, arriving around 9 p.m. Prosecutors believe that after the victim returned home, the Defendant attacked her from behind hitting her in the head with the buttstock of an old shotgun, causing what’s known as basil fracture. Hensley stated that a basil fracture can cause almost instantaneous death. He then stated that evidence will show after attacking the victim the Defendant drug her into the master bathroom of their home, placed her into the bathtub and began cleaning and covering up the crime. He then wrapped her body in a comforter, loaded her into his truck and drove across the Jackson/DeKalb county line, where she was found buried in a shallow grave, over a month later. Prosecutor’s state evidence will show that the Defendant then drove to Michelle’s mother’s home to tell her Michelle was missing around noon the next day. Prosecutors further allege that the property where the victim’s body was found is a place where the Defendant liked to frequent since his childhood. It was “a spot special to the Defendant.” They also stated testimony will show that luminal used in the house will show blood had been cleaned up from the couple’s master bedroom as well as drag marks of blood leading into their bathroom. Prosecutors allege that the Defendant’s own father will testify that after Michelle went missing, Barry gave him a shotgun and said the police would be looking for it. Prosecutors also allege that the Defendant gave several statements and different stories to law enforcement officers, including that the blood found in the bedroom was from the victim cutting her ankles and one story that she began bleeding during sex, and while cleaning the blood up with a towel became upset and slung the blood. He also told witnesses and law enforcement that victim left to go to Hardee’s, ran off with another man, went to buy drugs and that his uncle killed her. Prosecutors also stated to jurors that the evidence will show Defendant was seen driving down the road with something wrapped up. According to prosecutors the evidence will show the Defendant is intelligent, calculating and manipulative and that all evidence will point to Barry Whitton, the Defendant charged with murder.

Attorney Gerald Paulk gave opening statements on behalf of the Defense. According to the defense, the Defendant and the victim were married in November 1991 and together had one son, Ethan Whitton, who was 22 months old when his mother went missing. Attorney’s stated that on the morning of December 7, 1997 Michelle Whitton left their home on County Road 399 around 10 a.m. At which time, according to Paulk, testimony will be given that Michelle was seen driving near her home on the morning she was reported missing. She was seen a few minutes later at Reeds Grocery. Counsel also stated that when the victim’s car was found a wallet was found within four feet of the car. However, there is no connection between the Defendant and the wallet. Defendant’s attorney’s also stated that the body of the victim weighed approximately 270 pounds and was dragged the length of a football field to the shallow grave where she was found.

Testimony in the trial began shortly after lunch today, the first witness called by prosecutors in the trial was an investigator with the State of Alabama, Mike James. James testified that that in 1997 he worked for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s office. In 1998, James testified that he received a call to South Sauty Creek, where a property owner had reported the possibility of a body being discovered. Upon arrival, James testified that he notified Alabama forensics and the ABI. He then spent the night on the property to protect the crime scene, primarily from the media.

The State also called Ed White, expert witness in crime scene investigations to testify. White testified that he was contacted on January 20, 1998 to investigate the gravesite where the victim was found. Upon arrival, White, who was then employed with the Alabama Department of forensic sciences saw Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. White testified that the scene was on the side of embankment down an approximate 236 foot incline. During White’s testimony the State offered evidence including video of the body being excavated from the grave, a blue towel, sandal and pink sweat suit found in the grave with the body. Her body was found wearing only a bra and a pair of shorts. Her breast had a laceration, covered with a band aid and their appeared to be lacerations on her head. White also testified regarding the luminal tests he performed at the couple’s residence on County Road 379. White testified that luminal results showed blood in the area where carpet was removed from the bedroom, as well as blood appearing to be drag marks from that area to the master bathroom. During the search of Whitton’s residence, carpet samples, duct tape, wash cloths, hand towels, and knives were taken.

On cross examination, White agreed that luminal can also detect cigarette smoke, fecal matter and other chemicals, the same way it does blood, with different reactions to each. White testified that the Whitton’s 22 month old son wasn’t present during crime scene investigation at the home, but that the Defendant was present. White agreed that there was no blood detected along the trail leading to the victim’s body. White also testified that the brand of towel found in the grave with the victim and at the Defendant’s home is a popular brand of towel. White testified that he has no knowledge of fibers being found at the scene being connected to any item at the Whitton home.

The State’s last witness of the day was Joseph Kindred, who’s married to Michelle Whitton’s aunt. According to Kindred, he was at the victim’s mother’s home the day she was reported missing. He and other family members searched Highway 40 and Highway 35 looking for the victim’s vehicle during that time. He also testified that he and Whitton searched a few weekends later in various areas including chicken houses near where the body was found. He testified that Barry was getting to Joyce that day, as she was under a lot of stress because her daughter was missing. Barry and Ethan stayed in Joyce’s home for a number of days after Michelle was reported missing. After Whitton returned to work, Joyce would keep Ethan daily while he was at work.

Testimony will resume on Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m

Whitton Trial, day two
September 15, 2015

The second day of testimony in the murder trial of Barry V. Whitton began on Tuesday morning with testimony from his mother, Louvarene Whitton. Louvarene testified that she learned of the victim’s disappearance when she received a phone call from the victim’s mother. Her son, accused of murdering his wife, did not inform her of Michelle’s disappearance.

During testimony Louvarene initially could not identify her son in the court room. Louvarene also testified that after Michelle’s disappearance she went to her son’s home to help give Ethan, the couple’s small child, medication. When she arrived her son was listening to the police scanner very loud. According to Louvarene he would listen to the scanner trying to find out what the police where doing, “if they were finding Michelle or what." She stated that he [Barry Whitton] was not trying to hide the fact that he was listening to a scanner. She stated that Barry and Dennis [Whitton] would check with law enforcement on what was going on with the search for Michelle. She also testified that on several occasions something would happen at the courthouse and her son would tell them, “I got by again." Louvarene testified that she had given Barry a shovel not long after the couple married in 1991. The shovel was returned to her after Michelle’s disappearance but had streaks worn into the metal part of the shovel. She also testified that she had Thanksgiving dinner with Barry, his son Ethan, and her husband, Dennis, prior to Michelle’s disappearance. She testified that Michelle did not eat dinner with them but was instead in another area of the home visiting with a relative. Louvarene stated that Barry told her if Michelle had lived he would have never financially had anything.

On cross examination, the defendant’s mother testified that she and Michelle had one argument that she could recall. The argument stemmed around an event that occurred while she was changing Ethan’s diaper. According to Louvarene as she was changing his diaper, the baby began placing his hands in his genital area. Louvarene grabbed his finger and bit it. Michelle became extremely upset and called her names. Louvarene further stated the entire family including herself, Barry, Michelle and Dennis had bad tempers.

At that point of the testimony, the defendant became emotionally upset and was crying.

Louvarene then stated that if Michelle and Barry did not get along, she wasn’t aware of it. Louvarene testified that between the time Michelle was missing and her body being found, the defendant showed her a portion of missing carpet in the bedroom of his home. He stated that it was from her having her period. She further testified that she did not remember a previous statement given to law enforcement officers that she had seen multiple holes in the carpet of the defendant’s home. She further elaborated that the statements were given by her while she was in the hospital for a mental breakdown. “I saw that one hole and that’s it.”

Dennis Whitton, father of the defendant, was the second witness called to the stand in today’s hearings. Dennis, a retired cattle farmer and pastor, also didn’t recognize his son in the courtroom. He testified that he learned of Michelle’s disappearance when Joyce Smart, mother of the victim, called him on the telephone around 2 p.m. on December 7. Dennis stated that after Michelle went missing Barry gave him an old 12-gauge shotgun. The shotgun had been passed down throughout the men in the Whitton family and originally belonged to Barry’s great grandfather. The gun was offered and admitted into evidence. Dennis testified that Barry gave the gun to him during the first week of Michelle’s disappearance. When giving him the gun, Barry told him he didn’t want the law to pick it up or confiscate it, for sentimental reasons. Whitton further testified that ABI Agent Mac Atkinson came and asked him if he knew anything about the gun. He turned it over the agent at that time. According to Dennis, Atkinson took the gun to Huntsville and returned it to him approximately three weeks later, at which time he returned it to Barry.

In regards to the property where the body of Michelle was discovered Dennis testified that Barry frequented the property to camp out and for recreation purposes. He further elaborated that Barry would take his donkey, Katie, with him to haul his camping supplies.

After the body was discovered on the property Barry allegedly told his father “If she was found sooner they might have found the killer.” He also would say “Well I made it one more time without getting indicted” each time the grand jury would meet after the body was found. This action went on for approximately one year. He also mentioned to Dennis after Michelle's passing that their credit card was maxed out. Dennis recalled the Thanksgiving prior to Michelle’s disappearance and stated that he and his wife went to Barry and Michelle’s for dinner. He ate with Barry, Ethan and his wife, Louvarene. Michelle was in another area of the home with her aunt, Linda.

During cross examination Dennis testified that he would not have come to today’s hearings without a subpoena, which he received from both the State and the defense. He did not remember that he previously gave statements saying that Barry was the one who notified him of Michelle’s disappearance, contradictory to his testimony today. Dennis stated that there was no sign of physical violence or abuse in the relationship between his son and Michelle.

Dennis was also questioned about the shotgun. He testified that the shotgun broke apart while his father was duck hunting with it. Dennis recalled being 8 or 9 years old when this event happened, he is now 71 years old. Dennis stated the gun is wobbly and has been since being repaired years ago, he further elaborated that it was not from hitting something. Whitton’s father testified that there were other guns in Barry’s home at the time of Michelle’s disappearance including a deer rifle and a 38 revolver, belonging to Michelle. However, the defendant did not give those to him. He was only given the family heirloom gun.

Michelle’s stepfather, Paul Smart testified today that he has been married to Michelle’s mother [Joyce] for 35 years. He recalled the day her body was found because he saw it on television. He also recalled it being Ethan’s 2nd birthday. While recalling the day Michelle was reported missing, he remembered being in bed, sick from food poisoning and hearing the defendant, Barry, come into the house. He recalls hearing him tell Joyce “She’s gone.” Barry told the Smarts that Michelle had left to go to Hardee’s, he got worried, left their home, went to Hardee’s, went back to Rainsville, went home, left Michelle a notice and came to their house. Smart recalled riding with Barry that night to his home to feed the animals. Smart testified that he did not go into the Whitton home, but wasn’t stopped from going into the home either. Approximately three days after Michelle’s disappearance, he rode with Barry to the Whitton home to get Ethan some clothes. He recalled going into the bathroom and “it was spotless.”

On cross examination, Smart testified that Michelle and her grandmother, Bea Wilson, had traveled to Huntsville the Saturday night prior to Michelle's disappearance. Michelle’s grandmother had taken her out to eat for helping her get her social security. Barry had Ethan during the trip. He further testified that Barry and Ethan stayed with him and Joyce for three or four days after Michelle’s disappearance. After returning back to their home, Joyce would keep Ethan while Barry would work. Barry was the person responsible for transporting Ethan to and from the Smart’s home.

Lisa Justice, friend of Michelle, testified prior to the court's lunch recess. Justice testified that she and Michelle had met in high school but became closer when they began working together at CW’s in Scottsboro. Justice testified that she saw the victim the Friday prior to her disappearance when she went to the Whitton home to ask for a ladder. She learned of Michelle’s disappearance on Sunday when Michelle’s grandmother called her. Justice said she had also traveled to the Grand Old Opry with Michelle the November prior to her disappearance. The Sunday following Michelle’s disappearance, Justice's church took up an offering for Barry Whitton. She took the offering to him that evening and ate dinner in the Whitton home. Justice testified that Whitton's demeanor was “laid back, how he always acts, no real emotions.” She also testified that after Michelle’s body was found, she babysat Ethan for the defendant when Joyce was no longer able to.

During her testimony Justice stated that Michelle was her best friend. She stated when she was going into labor Michelle gave her some real good advice, including “it’s going to hurt real bad.”

At that point in Justice's testimony, Barry Whitton became visibly upset and cried.

Justice testified that she was not aware of any issues except once when Michelle said Barry was going to leave her and Michelle was upset. That was prior to Michelle's pregnancy with Ethan. Justice stated, “Ethan was born and everything was fine.” She further stated that she was not aware of any occasion where Barry hurt or abused Michelle.

Afternoon testimony began with Lynn Hendrix. Hendrix testified that she went to school with Barry and knew him through Michelle, who was a distant cousin. She testified that she never knew of Michelle being involved in drugs, that she never did drugs and that she was a good girl. Hendrix stated that she last saw Michelle two weeks before her disappearance. She stated that Michelle came to her house and was crying, her eyes were red, swollen and puffy. Hendrix said that Michelle wanted a divorce but was scared because Barry would kill her if she ever tried to leave. On several occasions, according to Hendrix, Michelle would mention that she was scared and that he would never let her leave, he would kill her first. Hendrix testified that she found out Michelle was missing when Michelle's grandmother called her. She stated that she immediately went to Michelle’s home, around 12:30 or 1 in the afternoon, and Barry was standing at the end of the carport. Barry told her that she left and didn’t come back. At the end of the conversation Barry stated, “I’ve got to get back in here to the only thing I’ve got left in this world.”

Hendrix said approximately two to three days after Michelle was reported missing, that she went to Barry’s home to check on Ethan. She recalled smelling chemicals in the home and Barry stated that Michelle had begun painting the bedroom and he was finishing it. Hendrix then went to Ethan’s bedroom, sat on the floor and played with him.

On cross examination Hendrix consistently stated that she went to Barry’s home, not the victim’s mother’s home on the day Michelle was reported missing. This testimony contradicted testimony given by other witnesses that Barry was at Joyce Smart’s home around noon that day.

The State then called Melanie Wright to the stand. Wright was married to the late Shane Byrum. Michelle’s car was found on Shane’s father’s property, with his wallet laying near the vehicle. According to Wright, Shane went out of town for work on December 7, 1997. The prior day according to Wright, Shane never left their home. Wright was unsure if the wallet was stolen from Shane or if it was missing or just gone. However, she stated back in 1997 she thought the wallet was stolen. Wright said that it wasn’t uncommon for her husband to purchase feed from a feed store. She testified that she originally believed someone stole the wallet. Wright testified that the wallet was later found on her father in law’s property approximately three to four miles from her house, beside Michelle’s car, but she never saw the car. She recalled signing a statement regarding the stolen wallet on December 14, but could not recall if her husband signed a statement or if he was present because he had to take a lie detector test. Wright did not recall her husband ever receiving his wallet. According to Wright, a lot of people frequented the area where the car was found. She testified that Shane used to have campfires and drink near the same location.

David Byrum was called by the State to testify following Melanie Wright. Byrum found Michelle Whitton’s car on his property in 1997. Byrum testified that on December 7, he and his son Shane were putting burial vaults up and down the east coast. He recalled leaving at approximately 6 a.m. that morning to travel to Baltimore for work. They remained on the road for approximately two to three weeks. According to Byrum, several people frequented his property. He recalled a morning when he saw a newscast showing a missing car. Byrum testified that after leaving for church, he drove down his property and saw the car, he immediately drove home and asked his wife to call the police. Byrum testified that he didn’t look in, walk around or touch the car.

The last testimony of the day came from Jason Brown, former coworker of Barry Whitton. Brown testified that prior to learning of Michelle’s disappearance and death, sometime between 1993 and 1997, Whitton became upset over Brown's failure to return an extension cord. Brown said Whitton threatened to pour gasoline on him and set him on fire. Brown did not report it to anyone at the company where they both worked. He also failed to report it to authorities. He stated that he did not come forward with the information until a member of law enforcement came to his home in 1998. Brown said Whitton used to tell him he could kill someone and they would never be found. Brown also said that Whitton told him that he could bury someone under a pile of rocks and that he could put a body in a bathtub full of maggots and it would never be found.

At the end of testimony Defense Attorney Gerald Paulk moved for a mistrial based on Brown’s testimony, that statements were made to him by Barry Whitton approximately 21 years ago and at least four years prior to Michelle Whitton’s disappearance.

State attorneys argued that the witness was clear he could not state whether it was months or years prior when statements were made.

Judge John Graham denied the motion.

Testimony is expected to begin tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.

Whitton Trial, day three
September 16, 2015

Testimony in the murder trial of Barry Whitton began this morning with Larry McGee. McGee is the cousin of the late Dink McGee. Dink owned the property where Michelle Whitton’s body was found. According to testimony by McGee, his cousin, Dink did not like anyone including Larry to be on his property.

McGee stated that he knew Barry Whitton from seeing him around and seeing him on his property. He clarified that often times he would just see Whitton’s truck parked at the gate leading to his property. He also testified that he never spoke to Whitton about being on his property, which adjoins Dink’s property and is located within 150 yards of where Michelle’s body was found.

According to McGee he went to the gravesite of Michelle the day after her body was removed. At that time, he took photos of where the body was found as well as a shelter located on top of the rocky ledge about 50 yards from where the grave was located. The shelter resembled a hut made of wood, leaves and sticks. McGee testified that he did not know if the hut had been located on the property for long, but that all leaves and branches were dead and rotten. McGee testified that if Dink would see a strange car near his property, or coming down the road, if he didn’t know who it was, he would go check. Dink never spoke about having problems with hunters on his property but did speak about having issues with Whitton frequenting his property.

Jackson County Sheriff Chuck Phillips also took the stand this morning. Phillips, who has been with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department for 33 years was a Chief Investigator in 1997 and assisted with the investigation of the Whitton case. Phillips testified that he became involved in the case on December 7, 1997 when Michelle was reported missing. He was contacted by Tommy Holt [former investigator] and went out with him to meet Barry and the parents of Michelle, at the Smart’s home. Phillips could not recall the time of day when he was contacted, but did clarify it was after 1 p.m. when Section Police Department took the missing person’s report. He did recall it being dark because he and Holt used spot lights to search the sides of Highway 35 and Highway 40 for Michelle’s vehicle. Phillips did not recall speaking to other people on that day and stated at that point they didn’t put a lot of effort into it. Many times, according to Phillips, missing persons show up or call a family member within a few weeks. Phillips stated he had no further contact with Whitton until December 11.

Phillips stated that the day after Michelle’s disappearance, Tommy Holt spoke to the family’s neighbors. Phillips then followed up by getting a statement from Whitton on December 11. Phillips did not recall if Whitton rode with him to the courthouse or came voluntarily. He did clarify while on the stand that the statement had a checkmark on the witness box and that the word subject would have been marked if Whitton had been a suspect at that time. At that time, Whitton stated he and Michelle had been married since November 23, 1991. Whitton stated that he was in the shower with his son, Ethan, around 10 a.m. Michelle came into the bathroom and told him she was going to get breakfast. She then kissed him on the cheek and kissed Ethan on the top of his head and left. Whitton told Phillips that at 11:04, he drove to Hardee’s on 72, checked Wal-Mart then the other Hardee’s, drove home, checked to see if the note he left for Michelle was still there, went to Rainsville Hardee’s, went back home and then went to Michelle’s mother’s house. According to the statement Whitton and Michelle’s mother then called family and the police department. The statement also says that Lisa Justice was Michelle’s best friend and that Michelle could be there [at Justice's residence]. Whitton then went on to say that in 1994 he left home for three days because he wanted to sell the property where the couple lived, but Michelle didn’t want to. He stated that during those three days he stayed in the woods on a place near his father’s home. After those three days he and Michelle made up and he never left again.

Phillips testified that Barry Whitton told him that when Michelle would get upset she would go to friend's or relative’s house and stay gone about 30 minutes. He also stated that it was common for Michelle to go to Burger King or Hardee’s most every morning. Barry said in his statement that Michelle was last seen wearing a pink sweatshirt with flower painted on it, socks and sandals. According to Whitton, Michelle left her purse at home but took her wallet and credit cards with her. Phillips reported that he had seen the note Whitton said he left for his wife, which read "Hi sweetheart. We got worried you broke down. We are out looking for you. Love, Barry and Ethan P.S. We left at 11:03."

While on the stand, Phillips recalled when Michelle’s car was found. According to Phillips the car was parked on a road that led into the field. According to Phillips the car, to his knowledge was processed where it was found. Phillips stated that until that time, the case was being worked as a missing person’s case, not a homicide. Phillips stated "when we found the car, we realized there was more to it."

They began to interview people at that point to find out what happened. Phillips stated that they tried to follow every lead. He also referred to fingerprints that were collected at the scene of the car. According to Phillips, three fingerprints were found, but only one was usable, and was never matched to anyone. He explained that fingerprints were sent to Montgomery to the ABI and were compared to those of Jeff Townsell or Jeff Townson, David Allen, Richard Ray, Shane Byrum and Whitton. Fingerprints were also run through the state’s fingerprinting system. He stated the fingerprints would have been run against specific names and dates of birth that were sent in by the department. Phillips stated that it was obvious, at some point a person in Michelle’s vehicle had deployed the seat belt. He stated they also became interested in finding out where Shane Byrum was since his wallet was found outside of Michelle’s vehicle. According to Byrum his wallet had been missing for two to three weeks, although a feed store receipt was found inside the wallet from approximately three days prior to the discovery of the missing vehicle. Shane Byrum gave consent to search his residence, but no evidence related to the homicide was discovered. According to Phillips the Whitton home is about six or seven miles from the Smart’s home, even farther away from where the body was located, that the car was about 10 miles from the gravesite and at least seven miles from the Whitton home.

Phillips testified he was present during the search of the Whitton home, but it wasn’t his duty to collect evidence. At that time, forensics collected all evidence from the home. Phillips did not recall seeing firearms during the search of the home.

Retired Chief Deputy and Jackson County Investigator Doyle York took the stand approximately one hour prior to lunch recess and remained there for several hours. York was an investigator in 1997 was at some point the lead investigator in the homicide of Michelle Whitton. He worked alongside Paul Shelton, who was also a lead investigator in this case. York testified that he processed the car when it was found. He testified that a gun was in the car, keys, a jacket and a purse with money in it.

York stated "Theft wasn’t the intention, the car was just dropped off." York testified that he initially had the vehicle towed to Dekalb County National Guard armory for it to be processed. He then vacuumed the car and fumed it. Fuming the car was a way to find fingerprints. York did not recall finding fingerprints in the car. York stated that he worked the crime scene at the Whitton home. While there, according to York, he had a conversation with Barry Whitton about blood found on the carpet, with Luminal.

York stated, "He couldn’t explain the blood and I said to him "It sounded like Michelle died in the bedroom of their residence." The statement made in the case also went on to say that Whitton believed his uncle had hidden in Michelle’s trunk, popped out and killed her. According to York Whitton tried explaining the blood in the bedroom by saying that he and Michelle woke up one morning and decided to have sex. Whitton said that after sex she stood up and began bleeding, she walked from the bed to the bathroom with blood on her. York testified that Barry remembered helping Michelle clean the blood off the carpet. While cleaning, Michelle got mad and slung the blood up in the air. During cross examination defense counsel questioned York as to why all statements aside from this particular one are signed by Whitton. York stated that normally the person giving the statement signs the statement.

Throughout York’s testimony, several persons of interest were named. Some, but not all were followed up on by investigators. York stated "We looked into a lot of other leads, there were other people of interest we checked out." According to York, after following all leads, no one developed into a suspect. He further stated he was able to rule out all other persons, but never Whitton. York testified that after Michelle’s body was found, he felt Whitton had no remorse. York stated "I didn’t see the pain someone should have." York also testified he felt the note left by Whitton was significant because he started a timeline.

On cross examination York did not recall taking photographs of the car. He did recall finding Shane Byrum’s wallet beside the car. York did not recall any trace evidence, including footprints or tire tracks near the car. He did recall taking the video of the burial site. York stated that after processing the car other names came up. He testified that David Allen lived near where the car was found. He interviewed Allen on August 7, 1997. During the interview Allen stated to York that Jeff Townsel came to his house. Allen stated that he had seen the car a few days prior to it being found. Allen stated during the interview that he knew there was a purse in Michelle’s car because Townsel had implied that he had moved the car. The night Townsel came over, according to Allen, the two walked down to the car around 11 p.m. Allen stated he saw the purse in the car, Townsel told him money was in the purse, but something told him not to look in it. York testified that he interviewed Allen a total of two times. York did not consider Allen a suspect or lead in the case.

Later in the investigation York testified that a subject in jail in Nevada made incriminating statements to law enforcement. The Jackson County Sheriff’s office was contacted by Nevada and the subject was transported back to Alabama. York testified that all her statements were dismissed because she admitted in 2000 that she was lying.

York stated during his testimony "It’s hard not to get tunnel vision as an investigator, but I felt like he did it." At some point, according to York he decided Whitton was the only suspect because everything kept pointing to him. York also stated on the stand that no DNA evidence or trace evidence was found at the scene where Michelle’s body was found that could be linked to Whitton or any items in his home. He stated he did not think a donkey was used to bring the body to the burial site, it appeared to him she had been dragged. York testified also that there were drag marks apparent with the luminal in the Whitton’s bedroom, but that luminal was never used in Michelle’s car.

York testified that at least two witnesses came forward to say they had seen Michelle midmorning on December 7.

The final testimony of the day came from Beatrice Wilson, grandmother of Michelle. Wilson testified that she and Michelle went to Huntsville around 5 p.m. the night before Michelle’s disappearance. The two traveled to Cracker Barrel, where Michelle had pineapple chicken and her favorite, apple dumplings. The two then traveled to Big Lots and then drove home. It was 8:50 p.m. when Beatrice got home, she could recall the time because she got home on time to watch Walker Texas Ranger.

Testimony will begin Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

Whitton Trial, day four
September 17, 2015

Day four of testimony in the murder trial of Barry Whitton began this morning with the testimony of Rebecca White. White, cousin to Michelle Whitton by marriage, testified that she and Michelle were best friends and spoke daily. According to White they were best friends beginning in 1991. White testified that she visited with Michelle the Wednesday prior to her disappearance. The two cooked lunch, visited and let their children play together in the Whitton home. According to White, Michelle seemed like something was wrong that day, but never said anything was wrong. During White’s visit to the Whitton home, she says she did not see holes in the carpet of the couple’s bedroom. She testified that Michelle kept an immaculate home, including the bathrooms. White testified that Michelle came to her home the Friday prior to her disappearance, but she was sick with a stomach virus, so Michelle left. White never saw Michelle again.

White stated that on the day Michelle was reported missing she was notified by Brian, Michelle’s brother, who came to her home and notified her. After being notified, White and her husband went to Joyce Smart’s home and sat around with family. At some point in the day White stated they went to the Whitton home with the police. She recalled Whitton locking his barn upon arrival to the home.

White testified that pretty soon after Michelle’s disappearance she began babysitting Ethan, the Whitton’s son, in her home. White stated "I didn’t believe Barry would have done anything to Michelle at that time." White stated later in her testimony that she had seen Whitton and Michelle together and nothing raised any doubt, suspicions or concerns. She felt she was in a better position to know what was on Michelle’s heart and mind and she knew how things were going in her life. She further elaborated that some family members became concerned about Barry coming to her house while her husband wasn’t present, even though he and Whitton worked the same shift at Heil. She stated she wasn’t afraid of him coming to her home but because of family concerns she stopped babysitting Ethan. White also stated that after Michelle’s body was found in a place Barry was familiar with, it didn’t seem like anyone else could have done it. It also seemed strange to her that Whitton never mentioned Michelle, like he wasn’t concerned.

The state then called Ricky Tinsley to the stand. Tinsley testified that he worked with Whitton in 1998 at Heil Environmental. He later gave a statement to DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department. Because of head injuries Tinsley could not recall the incident, even after reading his statement of January 23, 1998.

Retired ABI agent Mac Atkinson was on the stand for several hours today. According to Atkinson, he was approached by Chief Investigator Chuck Phillips on December 17, 1997, three days after Michelle’s car was located. Atkinson was asked by Phillips to assist in the investigation of Michelle’s disappearance. Atkinson stated he immediately became involved in the case. Atkinson, who was on the scene when Michelle’s body was recovered, explained that property owner, Dink McGee called the Rainsville police Department and reported the body. After being notified Atkinson, along with other law enforcement officers traveled to the scene. After securing the scene, guards were left to protect it overnight. The following day Atkinson and other law enforcement officers including those from the State Forensics lab went back to the scene and removed the body. According to Atkinson upon locating Michelle’s body, it was obvious how she had gotten there. Atkinson testified that there was a trail leading almost all the way to the hole where the body was found, with obvious drag marks leading to the location. There was also fuzz located on each side of the trail leading to the grave. Atkinson stated that the fuzz appeared to be pieces of cotton but was later determined to be synthetic fiber. He further stated a person would have had to driven across an open field, then walk to the gravesite. According to Atkinson there was a set of tracks, from what appeared to be a small car or truck went all the way across the field. According to Atkinson it was apparent that two back tires on the vehicle were larger than the front tires. Atkinson stated there was a lean to approximately 70 yards from the grave and he was surprised the hole used as a grave wasn’t deeper.

Atkinson testified that he met with Whitton the night Michelle’s body was found and got consent to search the residence at approximately 5:40 p.m. Atkinson could not recall Whitton’s demeanor when he approached him. He recalled going to the Smart’s home where Whitton was located. Atkinson stated "Barry came outside to us and said, "I heard you found the body.", if I’m not mistaken that’s what he said." Atkinson stated that he told Whitton a search of his residence was necessary and Whitton, "Didn’t object at all." According to Atkinson, Whitton had no problem signing the consent and that Whitton remained unemotional. He stated that Whitton didn’t ask questions, didn’t ask where, didn’t ask the condition his wife was found in, didn’t ask what her injuries were, or what circumstances she was found in. " I don’t recall him being upset at all," stated Atkinson. According to Atkinson during cross examination, he believed Whitton and Michelle’s family had learned of a body being found by media coverage.

Atkinson testified that during the investigation he spoke with Whitton on January 8, 1998, based on information the Sheriff’s Department had shared with him. He stated he wanted to follow up on what Whitton had told the Chief Investigator. Atkinson again said Whitton had no problem talking to him. According to the statement Whitton told him, "His wife left home on December 7 at approximately 9:45 a.m. to go to Hardee’s to get breakfast. He assumed the one on Highway 72. He said Michelle didn’t return when he thought they should have. He dressed Ethan and at approximately 11 a.m. went to look for Michelle and took Ethan with him. He stated he left a note at the house telling Michelle where he had gone while they were out looking for her. After about an hour searching, he went to Joyce Smart's to see if she had heard from Michelle. After discussion Barry called Section police and reported Michelle missing. Barry stated he had no idea where his wife was, that he had caused her no harm, he stated they had a good marriage. His wife loved Ethan, there was no way she just ran off." At that time, according to Atkinson, Whitton did not ask about the process of search.

Atkinson stated on February 3, 1998 he received a shotgun from Dennis Whitton. Dennis told him Barry Whitton had given him the shotgun after Michelle went missing. Atkinson then turned the shotgun over to state forensics and asked them to analyze it to see if anything of value to the investigation could be found. After getting the gun back from forensics, Atkinson returned the gun to Dennis because forensics didn’t find anything and the gun have been in the family for several generations. Atkinson also stated he knew if he needed the gun again, he could get it.

Atkinson testified he spoke to Whitton on several occasions after the body of Michelle was found, most of the time at the request of Whitton. He stated that Whitton had him come out to his home a couple of times. Atkinson recalled a time on February 17, 1998 when he went to Whitton’s home at his request. When asked about Whitton’s demeanor Atkinson stated, "He was trying to point me in different directions." He stated Whitton wasn’t emotional, didn’t maintain eye contact. He further elaborated that what you expect someone to ask and what they ask isn’t always the same. He stated that in the course of his career he has investigated several homicides. He explained that in other homicides family of the victim usually ask particular questions. According to Atkinson, although each case is different one of the things you always have is a lot of concern for family and they want to know if you’ve found the suspect, what’s being done, have investigators talked to certain people and they are always extremely emotional. Atkinson stated that victim’s family members want to see something is being done to resolve the issue of their relatives being murdered. Atkinson stated he didn’t see any of that when he spoke with him. Instead, Whitton spoke to him about an uncle, Verlon Saples, for about an hour. Whitton was telling Atkinson about what a bad person Saples was. Atkinson did not follow up on the conversation by interviewing Saples. He attempted to find him but couldn’t, and didn’t believe what he was hearing. Atkinson stated he got the impression that he was trying to point he investigation away from himself. Whitton told Atkinson he didn’t know where Michelle’s body was found but then admitted to previously taking four other people to the area where she was found. During the conversation Whitton referenced a shotgun given to Atkinson by Dennis Whitton and said, " the shotgun tells him how his wife was killed." Whitton also questioned Atkinson as to when coworkers at Heil would be interviewed, what Michelle was wearing, where her body was found, but not the condition of her body. . "He was interviewing me, I was interviewing him on a lot of this." said Atkinson. He recalled Whitton wanting to know what was going on, who they were talking to and what they were doing. Atkinson stated that he felt Whitton was asking questions to find out if he was a suspect. He stated that Whitton explained the holes in the carpet were made by his son, Ethan and requested the carpet back so he could cover it up.

At the end of the interview Whitton mentioned a song about how life goes on and stated he had to see where he was at and what he was going to do. At that point, Atkinson stated Whitton became emotional.

On February 19, 1998 Atkinson again spoke with Whitton. At that time, Whitton notified him that he knew four people who knew the area where Michelle was found. Those people were Luther Beard, Harold Whitton, Verlon Saples and David Wright. Whitton stated he’d been going to the property since he was a young boy and had taken all of them to the area. When speaking about Michelle’s car being found, Whitton stated that he didn’t know where it was found but it was brought from DeKalb County direction and was brought in at night. Whitton went on to tell Atkinson that whoever did it had the key to his house because Michelle had house keys when she left. In trying to explain the blood found in his bedroom Whitton stated that Michelle would often cut herself while shaving and it was possible small drops of blood were dropped from her bathroom to the dresser area of their room. Whitton told Atkinson he wasn’t aware Michelle had spoken to a lawyer about getting a divorce, but if she had it would be Wade Johnson, a friend from High School. He told Atkinson he didn’t believe Michelle was seeing anyone else.

On February 26, 1998 Whitton called Atkinson at 6:50 p.m. He wanted to know who had been at his residence when he was at work. Whitton then stated he was afraid of being arrested and losing his place. According to Atkinson, Whitton was more concerned about how soon he was going to be arrested and his personal property, than anything else. He stated that Whitton never showed any emotional attachment to his wife at all. "It was about him, his stuff and his son." stated Atkinson. Atkinson said Whitton stated he had been talking to a deputy from DeKalb County and learned fibers had been found near his wife’s body. He told Atkinson he learned these fibers were synthetic and said it couldn’t have come from his house because he had goats. According to Atkinson, Whitton would make comments about hearing things from some people but wouldn’t give him the names. Atkinson felt as if Whitton either was using a police scanner and hearing the information, or he already knew the information.

On February 28, 1998 Atkinson received a phone call from Whitton. During the phone call Whitton told him that he had spoken with a Jackson County Investigator the night before. According to Whitton, the investigator found cast off blood on the light fixture in his bedroom and asked if Atkinson could have someone in forensics check it out. Whitton requested all light globes in his house be checked.

Atkinson testified that he was present when the Whitton home was searched. He later became aware of the luminal results. Atkinson stated that the results, as well as towels found in the home were significant in the search. Atkinson stated that as an investigator in the case, Whitton became the suspect. He stated " too many things pointed to him, too many things was not a coincidence, the location of where Mrs. Whitton was found, evidence in the house, lack of concern for his wife, questions that he asked, statement he made to me, the fact that other people that were persons of interest didn’t even know the Whittons. When I became involved Mr. Whitton along with five or six others were persons of interest. It didn’t take me long to narrow that down to one. My goal was to solve the crime, that’s the main goal. In this case, I wanted to solve who killed Michelle Whitton."

Cross examination went on all afternoon. Atkinson stated on cross examination that he and only one other ABI agent were involved in the Whitton case. This was the first murder case he led as an ABI agent.

Atkinson recalled quite a bit of discussion about the billfold found next to the car. He stated that those issues brought people in who were persons of interest. He also testified that he never went to the location where Michelle’s car was found. Atkinson stated that Christopher "Shane" Byrum, who’s wallet was found next to the car, on January 14, 1998. He did not recall a forensics search being completed in Byrum’s home. Atkinson stated that inside Byrum’s wallet there was a $20 bill, a $1 bill and a receipt for feed dated December 3, 1997. Atkinson stated Byrum denied knowing Michelle. When asked how he confirmed Byrum was telling the truth Atkinson stated, "From the interview with him and him telling me who stole his wallet, I determined it not to have any factor in this case."

Atkinson was questioned about statements given by people who stated they saw Michelle on the morning of December 7, 1997. Atkinson stated that Bates reported he had seen Michelle that morning about 10 a.m. at Reed’s grocery. According to Bates, who knew Michelle for six years, Michelle was wearing a pink sweat suit with flowers on it, consistent with the clothing Michelle was wearing when her body was discovered. Atkinson further stated a lot of value wasn’t put in it because, "It didn’t fit the timeline we had."

According to Atkinson the Sewell’s, neighbors of the Whitton’s, were not interviewed in this matter until January 24.

Atkinson stated that he had also spoke with Dink McGee, property owner of the land where Michelle’s body was discovered. Atkinson did not take a statement from McGee but reported that prior to Michelle’s body being found, McGee had contacted the Rainsville Police Department because he thought a body was buried on his property on December 9 or December 10.

Atkinson was asked if the 12 gauge gun, given to him by Dennis Whitton and admitted into evidence in this case, is the murder weapon. Atkinson responded that the murder weapon could have been the gun. The injury could have been caused by a gun, rock, and baseball bat or tire tool. It is his position that the gun is the possible murder weapon, although after being tested by forensics, it was immediately returned to Dennis Whitton.

Testimony is expected to begin tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.

Whitton Trial, day five 
September 18, 2015

Day five of testimony in the murder trial of Barry Whitton began this morning with additional testimony of retired ABI officer Mac Atkinson. Atkinson’s testimony began with additional questions about witnesses who say they saw Michelle on the morning of her disappearance. He stated that he felt those individuals making the statements had made a mistake. He also stated that Randy Bates approached him approximately three or three and a half years after he closed his investigation. Bates then stated to Atkinson, “I think I made a mistake when I told you I saw Michelle on Sunday, December 7.” He further stated that Bates’ statement didn’t fit in with the investigation and evidence he had. Bates originally reported he was at Reed’s grocery meeting Donna Smith on the morning of December 7, 1997. He told Atkinson that he recalled seeing Michelle because she pulled out in front of him and almost hit him. He stated Michelle was wearing a pink sweatshirt with flowers and indicated that Michelle stopped, waved and indicated by mouth she was sorry for almost hitting him. According to Bates, Michelle was headed toward her house.

Atkinson said that a statement was taken of the Sewell’s, Whitton’s neighbors on January 24, 1998 by him. Previously Tommy Holt had taken a statement. Atkinson confirmed that the information in both reports was consistent. He later called the Sewell’s in March, 2000 and discovered that the information was still consistent. The Sewell’s stated they could recall seeing Michelle on Sunday morning because they were on their way to a funeral that morning. Atkinson stated he confirmed the funeral was held on that Sunday. However, he said their statements didn’t affect his timeline as to when Michelle was killed.

Atkinson also testified he did not take Shane Byrum’s statement until January 14, 1998, a month after Michelle’s car was found.

Wes Corbitt, former Section Police Department officer testified about the day of December 7, 1997. Corbitt was dispatched to County Road 419 to the home of Michelle’s parents, the Smarts, at approximately 1:15 that afternoon. According to Corbitt he spoke with Whitton who wanted to file a missing person’s report. Corbitt stated that Whitton told him his wife had left that morning to go to Hardee’s and did not return. According to Corbitt, Whitton’s demeanor was calm, indifferent and he really didn’t appear upset. Corbitt stated that after taking the report he checked pull offs on Highway35, making sure Michelle hadn’t wrecked. He continued to be on the lookout for her vehicle all day. Later, Corbitt recalled seeing Whitton driving on County Road 19 before noon in a small white pickup truck. According to Corbitt, there was what looked like a blanket or sleeping bag in the passenger seat. He later called the Sheriff’s Department and relayed the information to investigators through dispatch. Corbitt testified that Whitton seemed to be driving normally. Corbitt stated in cross examination he was unaware if Whitton told him he had been to Hardee’s looking for her.

John Kilburn, forensic scientist and consultant for the State testified this morning as well. Kilburn testified that he came to Jackson County for a period of time to Whitton’s residence to look for additional evidence. Kilburn testified that he received evidence from Ed White. Part of that evidence was two envelopes that had fibers from the grave of Michelle in it. He also received other envelopes full of fibers that came from the path between the grave and a clearing in the field. Kilburn testified that he also received soil samples from the grave of Michelle, a pink sweatshirt with duct tape on the sleeve, fibers from a rug in Ethan’s room, duct tape, a washcloth, hand towel and a shovel. Kilburn testified that he compared the fibers to the items taken from Whitton’s home and none of those items matched. Kilburn testified that he also received additional items from the Whitton home including a vacuum cleaner, sleeping bag and a coat, but none of those items matched items removed from the grave.

Kilburn also testified that soil found in and around the grave was not consistent with soil found on a trenching tool in Whitton’s possession.

Kilburn stated that trace evidence is left anytime two items come into contact with each other. Kilburn also testified that tire casting was available in 1997. He further testified that a person would not be able to visually exam a tire track, not take photos, not take cast molding of tire tracks and 17 years later make a suggestion that it may match Whitton’s truck or trailer. According to Kilburn you have to look at other things to be able to match a tire, other than tread pattern. “If a person made the proper examination on a given day they may say it looks similar but to say it’s that tire, you can’t do that. It would be unreliable. If it was my case and I was going to try to record that tire pattern or track you would have to take photographs and/or make a cast of it," said Kilburn.

Jerry Carter, who also used to work on truck and car tires stated that he had put tires on vehicles for Whitton. He recalled seeing Whitton on Sunday, December 7, 1997 and could recall it because Whitton was driving around a curve on the wrong side of the road. Carter recalled that Whitton had two mud grip tires on the back of his truck and street tires on the front. He recalled seeing Whitton between 9 and 10 a.m. that morning headed toward Michelle’s parents’ home. He stated that he could see something in the floor of the truck higher than the seat but not as high as the dash. Carter also recalled being questioned by FBI agents the day after Michelle was reported missing.

Hellen Bell testified that she remembers the day Michelle was reported missing and that she had seen Jerry Carter on that morning between 9:30 and 9:45. She stated on cross examination that she could recall because she learned of Michelle’s disappearance that morning prior to 9:30 a.m. and she was certain of the time.

Joy McGee, wife of the late Dink McGee testified that she didn’t believe Whitton had permission to come onto their property. She testified that she saw Whitton walking up the road about a week or a few days prior to Michelle’s disappearance. She also recalled a day when Dink came to her with insulation and asked what it was. According to Joy she explained to Dink that it appeared to be something that came from a comforter, pillow or sleeping bag.

Glenn McGee, owner of the property where Michelle was found, also testified that he had seen Whitton on the family property for approximately ten or fifteen years. He recalled seeing Whitton the Saturday morning prior to Michelle’s disappearance walking up the road with a small dog and a walking stick. He also testified that he saw the tire tracks in the field leading to the wooded area where Michelle’s body was found.

Judge John Graham ended testimony early this afternoon for jurors to attend to necessary business. The State expects to rest their case on Wednesday, at which time the Defense expects to call witnesses for at least one week.

Testimony will begin again on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m.


Whitton Trial, day six
September 21, 2015

The second week of testimony in the murder trial of Barry Whitton began this morning with testimony from Roger Morrison, forensic scientist. Morrison has worked for 45 years studying bodily fluids. The state offered Morrison as an expert. During the course of Morrison’s career he was employed with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences. His career with the department spanned a period of 29 years. In 1998 Morrison was head of forensic biology at the Huntsville Lab. Morrison testified that he was involved in the testing of evidence in the homicide investigation of Michelle Whitton in 1998. On January 21, 1998 Morrison went to the shallow grave where Michelle’s body was found. Morrison stated that he helped to recover the body and subsequently collected evidence in this case. Morrison testified that it was probably him in the video. Morrison also testified that there were clothing items found in the gravesite of Michelle. He stated she was wearing a bra and panties when her body was recovered. Morrison testified that the gravesite was 3 feet 11 inches long and 2 feet 10 inches deep. Ground temperature that day was 48 degrees.

Morrison testified that he went to the Whitton home on the same day. He stated that he left the gravesite at 11:25 that morning and arrived at the home at 11:50 a.m. He left the home at 3:30 that afternoon. According to Morrison he sprayed the couple’s bedroom with luminal. He explained that metal lines such as iron, cleaning agents and blood can all cause a reaction with luminal. He explained however, that blood has a slower reaction with luminal. According to Morrison the luminous from the agent began in front of a set of chest of drawers, to the edge of the bed and to the master bath. When using luminal, blood is typically luminous for approximately 30 seconds. According to Morrison, when he arrived at the home there were cut out areas in the carpeting covered by throw rugs, those areas are the ones that was luminous from luminal. There were four cut out areas in the carpet. A triangle shape cut out area measured 7 inches on each leg and was 2 ½ inches wide. Other areas were 2 ¾ inch in diameter, 1 inch in diameter and 11 inches in length and 5 ½ inch in diameter. Samples around the holes tested presumptive for blood but could not be verified to be human blood. Morrison testified that if chemicals are used to clean up a bloody area, it can cause a negative reaction. He further stated there was no visible blood in the room and that luminal tells him that there was "possibly" blood on the floor at some point in time. Morrison stated that he could not say with certainty other areas on the carpet that were luminous were from human blood. According to Morrison it was significant for him that a place in the drag pattern tested positive for human blood. A blood stain on the door facing going into the bathroom was also tested. Morrison stated the pattern was consistent with someone being dragged with bloody hair or clothing. Morrison stated he was unable to determine if it was human blood. According to Morrison it was more of a blood spatter mark. Areas in the bathroom were not indicative of blood. According to Morrison only one area in the home tested positive for human blood. The spot was not measured. Morrison testified that he "was told about cut outs in carpet, so that was our initial staring place." The drag mark referenced was maybe 12 inches in width, not more estimated.

Morrison said he’s not telling the jury that a body was dragged, he’s not saying it was anything just saying it’s a pattern in blood. The pattern could be caused by the body and the blood from the body, clothing and/or hair. Hair nor blood were found in the collected vacuum. Hair with blood on it in was never found in the house. Any number of things could cause a drag mark. "Spatter" marks were not found in the bedroom. Spatter is a spot of blood from high velocity in which blood comes from a body or pool of blood. Typically in blunt force trauma the first blow makes impression and the second blow hits the blood and determines how much blood goes and in which direction it goes.

He said If she was hit in the head in the bedroom there would be cast off spatter. The only possible spatter was on the light globe. It was too denatured to test. It could have been there for a long time. Spatter can be controlled typically people don’t see it and it can be in places not easily recognizable. At least two significant lacerations to the back of Michelle’s head were noted on removal of her body. The two lacerations he believes were made by the person who killed her. Based on his training the blows to the head would have made blood spatter. None was found on the walls of Whitton’s home.

If blood spatter was painted over it would not be visible there was no indication that the walls had been painted over.

Morrison also testified that on the second trip to the home there was an area on the ceiling light fixture that was luminous. During that trip he also had carpet removed from an area going into the bathroom. Tests were performed on the carpet in the state’s lab. DNA testing was performed on the carpet fibers. DNA testing did not give results in these matters. The area of carpet that did test positive for blood was 2 ½ inches in diameter. He stated that he did not go to any other places prior to returning to the Whitton home in February.

Some testing was done on the vehicle of Michelle, but luminal was not used, on January 21 at 3:50 p.m. He testified that he looked for blood stains visually. No photographs were taken. Morrison was given no indication that the car was used in the commission of this crime. If he had been given information that she may have been killed in the car, he would have used luminal. If the car was found abandoned it could have evidentiary value according to Morrison.

Morrison testified that he was told Whitton was a suspect in the case, but was not told of any other suspects He was never asked to test items from any other home, other than Whitton’s. Morrison testified that he examined Whitton’s vehicle, a two door 1984 Nissan truck. From the reactions, nine areas in the truck were swabbed. All presumptive tests in the truck were negative.

Morrison testified that he also tested the firearm received from Mac Atkinson on February 4, 1998. Morrison testified that he tested the weapon and didn’t find any blood that he could verify. The leather on the weapon was tested and a weak reaction was found. However, because leather is an animal product, it is not unusual to get that reaction. No DNA or blood was found on the gun to connect it to Michelle’s murder. No other weapons were tested that may have caused blunt force trauma. Several knives were however, when tested there was no blood or fibers found on the knives.

Heather Sharp, first cousin of Michelle testified prior to lunch. She knew Michelle her entire life. Sharp testified that she knew Whitton through Michelle. According to Sharp, who was 15 at the time, kept Ethan for approximately three to six months.

Whitton became emotional during the testimony of Dr. Joseph Embry, who took the stand after lunch today. Embry, retired medical examiner, performed the autopsy on Michelle on January 22, 1998. According to Embry, when he received Michelle’s body, she was dressed in a bra, panties and shorts. He stated that her body was decomposing and had some apparent post mortem injuries to the left knee, right foot and her hand. Her body was covered in mud and her body was discolored in places. Her body weighed approximately 200 pounds at the time of autopsy. Michelle’s body had cuts to the neck and face, which appeared to be due to a knife wound. Embry also stated that there were two lacerations caused by blunt force trauma to the back of her head and bleeding to her brain. The trauma extended from the base of her skull and the temporal bone, the hardest bone in the human body was fractured. According to Embry, this was a horrendous injury that would require a great amount of force. He also stated that Michelle most likely lived a few minutes after being struck and would have lost a great amount of blood. He also stated that her stomach was full of food. Embry stated that it would appear she died within two hours of eating.

Joyce Smart, Michelle's mother, was the last witness of the day. Smart stated that Michelle was a wonderful daughter and was active and really happy. She said that Michelle took over and took care of her and her brother, after her father passed away. Smart recalled a day when Michelle wouldn’t tell her bye and she loved her when she was in elementary school. She stated Michelle went to the principal and asked to call Joyce. Joyce said Michelle called and told her she wasn’t mad at her anymore and that she loved her.

Smart recalled the morning that Michelle was reported missing. She testified that Barry came to her house between 12:05 and 12:10 that afternoon. She recalled seeing Barry pull into the driveway in a blue flatbed truck. He came up to the door holding Ethan and Ethan’s diaper bag. Smart said Barry looked serious and was taking large steps to get to the door. He said "Do you know where Michelle is? Have you talked to her?" Whitton then told her that around 11 a.m. he got worried so he went to Hardee’s in Scottsboro and Rainsville looking for her. He also said he drove past houses where Michelle could have been. Smart testified that it was not uncommon for Michelle to go buy breakfast at Hardee’s on Sunday mornings. Often times she would go buy breakfast and bring it to Smart’s home. Smart said she asked Whitton if they had been fussing and he told her Michelle wasn’t mad about anything. After some time, Smart told Whitton they needed to call the police. Family members started coming to Smart’s home after they called the police. She recalled that Whitton went out to feed the stock and possibly to look for Michelle. On the same day, Whitton told Smart that Michelle’s burial insurance policy had been canceled.

Smart also recalled a conversation with Whitton where he told her that the morning of Michelle’s disappearance she had stolen some money and went to buy drugs. According to Smart, Whitton alleged that Michelle had started using marijuana when she worked at Domino’s. On another occasion, Whitton brought Smart the couple’s bank statements and showed her blank checks written out for $50 to prove Michelle had been buying drugs. Smart told him Michelle was not on drugs.

On the day that Michelle’s body was found Smart testified that she and Whitton were standing there crying and Whitton said, "Joyce, I want to tell you how much Michelle loved you. She loved you so much." At this point in the testimony Whitton became visibly upset. According to Smart, Whitton then told her that Michelle didn’t go buy drugs that morning that he was just telling her that. Smart then stated that she told Whitton that if Michelle had been on drugs, it was okay. Smart then told Whitton that he had to take care of Ethan and stand by him. Smart stated that she told him that because Whitton always said that his parents didn’t stand by him.

Smart testified that at a later date Whitton asked her to come get some of Michelle’s belongings because he was afraid he would be arrested for Michelle’s murder. According to Smart, he wanted her to get belongings Michelle received when her father passed away, to keep for Ethan.

According to Smart, Whitton stayed at her home for two or three weeks after Michelle’s disappearance. She did not recall that Whitton ever went anywhere alone during that time.

Smart also testified that Whitton received a $3,000 accidental death policy on Michelle. All of the monies received by him were paid toward Michelle’s funeral expenses.

The State expects to rest their case around early afternoon tomorrow. Testimony will begin at 8:30 in the morning.


Whitton Trial, day seven
September 22, 2015

The State heard from their last two witnesses prior to resting this morning.

The first witness called to the stand was David Young. Young who stated he was an ironworker and lives in New Hope said he met Whitton in 2007. He testified that he spoke to Whitton on a daily basis for seven months. Young, who has been convicted of felony possession of firearm, a federal charge; escape; burglary and receiving stolen property, further stated that Whitton discussed Michelle’s death with him. Young testified that Whitton told him he and Michelle got into an argument around 9 p.m. one night in their bedroom. He stated that Michelle threw something at Whitton. Whitton then came around the bed and beat her. After beating her he drug her into their bathroom where he continued beating her and stabbed her to death. Young testified that Whitton said that the he wrapped Michelle in a towel to stop the blood, cleaned up the bathroom and bedroom and took her body to a wooded area on the hillside where he disposed of the body. Whitton also allegedly told Young that Whitton stated the police were investigating two other guys for the crime because something was found beside her car that belonged to one of them. Young stated that Whitton also said that when questioned, he told the police that Michelle had gone grocery shopping and never came home and that he was a genius and could get away with anything. Young stated that he reported the conversation to the Jackson County District Attorney’s office in 2008 and spoke to the Attorney General’s office in 2013.

Kenneth Macanelly was the State’s final witness. Macanelly, who has felony federal convictions including conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to distribute cocaine, stated that he went to school with Whitton in grade school at Fyffe. He again met Whitton in 2007 and saw him on a daily basis. Macanelly also testified the Whitton discussed Michelle’s murder with him. Macanelly stated that he asked Whitton if he had killed her and that Whitton nodded his head yes and smiled. Whitton told Macanelly that the police weren’t smart enough to catch him. Whitton also allegedly told Macanelly that Michelle’s body was off of a bluff and that the police found a matching towel like the one in her grave, at his house. He told Macanelly that there was blood all over the couple’s bedroom and headboard of the bed. Macanelly testified that he contacted Craig White with the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department and reported Whitton’s statements in 2008. Macanelly also testified that he knew Shane Byrum.

After testimony from these final witnesses, the State rested its case.

The Defense then moved for a Judgment of Acquittal. According to Defense attorneys the State failed to meet their burden of proof, failed to establish proper venue as the body was found in DeKalb County and failed to present sufficient evidence to move forward.

The State responded to the allegations by stating that the fact that the body was recovered in DeKalb County is immaterial and that it has been proved that Michelle was killed in the bedroom of her Jackson County home, through evidence and testimony.

Judge John Graham denied the motion.

The Defense began their case with testimony from Eugene Sewell, Sewell knew Michelle briefly and was a neighbor to the Whitton’s for at least five years. The neighbors each raised goats and would meet outside and talk sometimes. Sewell testified that he never heard the two fight and he considered them good neighbors. Sewell testified that he saw Michelle on Sunday, December 7, 1997. According to Sewell, he and his wife were on their way to the funeral of his wife’s aunt, Juanita Martin at 10 a.m. that morning. According to Sewell when they got to the stop sign at the end of the road Michelle was sitting there about to turn on Highway 71. He stated she was driving a Maroon Camry. He testified that Michelle turned left going toward Dutton, as she was turning she turned around and waived at Sewell and his wife. He testified that there was no question in his mind that it was Michelle. Sewell stated he learned of Michelle’s disappearance about a week later. A deputy came to his home and took a statement about him seeing her. He then stated an investigator came a few months later. Sewell also testified that throughout time about six or seven officers have spoken to him to confirm his story, including the prosecutors who came to his home two weeks ago. Sewell stated that he told them the same story as he testified to today. Sewell stated that Michelle was wearing pink because he could see her from her shoulders up.

Clara Townson, whose husband is a second cousin of Michelle also took the stand. Townson testified that she saw Michelle on the Sunday she disappeared. According to Townson, she and her husband had been to Taco Bet and were headed home toward Henagar. Near the bottom of the hill, she saw Michelle driving a reddish colored car. According to Townson it was near 10 a.m. In January, Townson felt that she should report it and called the police department and made a statement. She stated that she also told her husband that she had seen Michelle that morning when she learned of Michelle’s disappearance.

Afternoon testimony began with Kenneth Woolsey, funeral director at the Scottsboro Funeral home. Woolsey testified that Juanita Carlisle Martin’s funeral was on December 7, 1997 at 11 a.m. Visitation was held on Friday from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Woolsey further stated that prosecutors were given the funeral records between a month and six weeks ago when they came to the funeral home.

David Wayne Allen who lived near the property where Michelle’s car was found testified that he saw Michelle’s car on the property the Wednesday after she disappeared and the Sunday before the car was found. Allen testified the he and Jeff Townsell went to the car later that night, but left because Townsell was paranoid. According to Allen at that time he was using crystal meth and so were most people he associated with, including Shane Byrum.

According to Allen, in his 2013 statement to the Attorney General’s office he stated that he did not know Michelle but she had been to his home with Shane twice. Allen stated that when he described the woman he had met with long brown hair, heavyset, not a doper, outgoing and friendly, law enforcement officers told him he knew her. He also stated he had seen her photo in the newspaper. Allen also testified that it was not uncommon for Shane to park cars in the area where Michelle’s car was found for long periods of time. He told them that she had long brown hair, heavyset girl. Said he saw her picture in the paper. Saw a missing person flier on her.

Doyle York returned to the stand this afternoon. York did not recall when he became involved in the missing person/murder case regarding Michelle. According to York, he was contacted on or around December 16, 1997 by Peggy Erby. Erby told York that she had information regarding Michelle. According to York, Erby told him that Michelle did in fact know Shane Byrum. After taking the report, York testified that he placed it into the main case file. He did not turn it over to Atkinson.

Prior to calling the next Defense witness to the stand the Judge heard a Motion to Quash subpoena filed by State regarding Donna Jo Helms. The State alleged that all documents and statements she made were hearsay. Defense attorneys stated that Jackson County brought her from Nevada to Alabama to get additional statement. However, they did not know what her version of her testimony would be today. According to Defense attorney’s Helms gave specific information in her original statement relating to the disappearance and murder of Michelle. According to the Defense the statements and details she gave, were hard to make up. Helms described in her original statement the injuries to Michelle, the vehicle Michelle was driving and the injuries to Michelle.

Judge Graham ruled that the attorneys could take the witness on voir dire without the jury present.

Prosecutors began the process by asking Helms if she recalled being in Nevada in 1998, she did recall and recalled being arrested for minor in possession of alcohol. According to Helms, she was drunk when arrested. Helms stated she did not remember writing a statement in Nevada. She denied that it looked like her writing. Helms did not recall saying she was a witness to a murder in Dutton. She did recall traveling from Nevada to Jackson County. She did recognize a statement she had given upon return to Jackson County. She admitted to lying during the previous statement. Helms recalled wearing a wire for the JC sheriff’s office to speak to Shawn Galloway and Billy Collins. They did not tell her they knew about the murder. Helms stated she was terrified while wearing the wire. She testified that she was told the two had something to do with the murder of Michelle. Defense attorney Gerald Paulk asked if Helms had met with the prosecutors. Helms admitted that she met with them a week ago.

The State stated the Judge that the statement is not admissible and she should not be questioned about it. The police reports offered as courts exhibits from Nevada are hearsay and there is no exception to them. Prosecutors stated Helms did not sign the statements and she should not be questioned on them. Helms stated that she did not know anything about the murder of Michelle and does not see how it’s relevant.

Paulk argued that he has a right to question the witness and show her reports to refresh her memory. For example Helms mentioned the names of four or five people.

Donna Jo Helms was called to the stand with the jury present after a brief recess. Helms stated that she knew Whitton because he gave her a gerbil and used to buy cow’s milk from him. Helms testified that she did not know Michelle. In the latter half of 1997, Helms stated she either lived in Dutton or Nevada. Helms also stated that she had heard on the news that Michelle had been murdered. Helms testified that she had no recollection of stating she was present when Michelle was murdered, she did not recall being questioned and did not recall being arrested in Nevada. Helms further testified that in 1997 and 1998 she knew Billy Collins, who she stated was involved in selling crystal meth at the time, Mike Johnson, and David Galloway. According to Helms she did not use drugs at the time but Johnson and Galloway did. Helms did not recall telling law enforcement that Michelle owed Collins $8,000 for drugs, she also did not recall that she told law enforcement that Michelle was stabbed, hit over the head with a rock and buried in a place that would make it look like her husband did it. She also did not recall describing Michelle’s car or the gun that was located in the glove compartment of the car.

Helms however did remember wearing a wire for Jackson County to speak with Collins about Michelle’s murder. She recalled being terrified because she did not want to be in trouble and because Kidd, Collins and Galloway were in the folk gang. According to Helms the "gang" would go out and rob people. Helms stated that she did not ask them if they committed the murder.

Helms further stated that she spoke to prosecutors in this case about a week ago. She stated she was approached May 28 at the Jackson County Courthouse and given a subpoena. She then stated that she got in touch with the State Attorney General’s office. According to Helms, she has met with prosecutors three times since May 28.

Helms stated all statement she made were just from things she had heard. Helms stated that she feels silly for the statement she made.

Helms testified today that in 2000 Jeremy Kidd did in fact tell her that Billy Collins killed Michelle. She stated that she told the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. Helms recalled picking photos of Michelle from a photo line up.

Testimony will begin tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.

Whitton Trial, day eight
September 23, 2015

Testimony began in the murder trial of Barry Whitton began this morning with the testimony of Tracie Garmany. Garmany began testifying about a party she attended in January 1998 where she overheard a conversation between Jeremy Kidd and others. After an objection was made, Judge Graham allowed the parties to take Garmany on voir dire outside the presence of the jury. Garmany stated that she overhead Kidd say he and a few others know where Michelle’s body was. She went on to say he described the body as being under some rocks in a hole. At the time Garmany stated she was scared and did not want to be involved.

With the jury back in the presence of the courtroom Defense attorney’s called Billy Barrentine to the stand. Barrentine testified that he knew Michelle and Whitton and had a friendship with the couple that materialized from their goat farming, “a farmer’s relationship.” According to Barrentine he was in the presence of the Whittons on several occasions and never saw any problems between the two. With the defendant becoming visibly upset at this point in the testimony Barrentine stated, “She had the sweetest smile on her face that anyone could have.”

Barrentine further stated that he saw Whitton on the afternoon Michelle was reported missing and on several occasions from the time she was missing until she was found. According to Barrentine, Whitton was visibly shaken and concerned each time. He further testified that he never saw anything that would make him believe Whitton was involved.

Barrentine did not recall whether or not he had made a written statement to Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. He did however remember speaking to the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department and telling them he knew nothing about her car, after it was found approximately two and one half miles from his home. He also spoke to prosecutors in this case three weeks ago then traveled to Scottsboro once to speak with them.

On cross examination Barrentine stated he was not aware that Whitton allegedly confessed or that there were drag marks in Whitton’s bedroom.

Kimberly Champion was the last witness heard this morning. Champion was the girlfriend of Jeremy Kidd in 1998. After Kidd’s suicide in Memphis at a later date, investigators came to Champion and spoke with her about the folk gang he was involved in and the murder and disappearance of a woman. According to Champion, none of the people who were around Kidd went by their actual names, they only went by gang names. At the time of a statement made in 1998, Champion named Mikey Johnson, Billy Collins and Shane Galloway. Today however, Champion could not recall the names. The only names she could recall were Cain, Sandman and Kidd. Champion further stated that she was afraid of them all.

Champion testified that during her interview with investigators they asked her if she knew Michelle and she did not. They further asked her what was said about Michelle, what Kidd knew about Michelle, what she had observed in Galloway’s home, as well as questions regarding an additional woman who was found murdered with carvings in her stomach. Champion further stated that she asked Kidd what he knew about Michelle after seeing her disappearance on T.V. and hearing comments by the guys. Kidd then told her that it wasn’t her business. She stated on the stand that she didn’t know what the guys did, but she was afraid of them. She further testified that detectives in Memphis advised her not to go to Kidd’s funeral.

Champion was taken on voir dire outside the presence of the jury she stated during that testimony that she had overheard the guys talking about Michelle’s disappearance. She further stated that upon asking him the question Kidd stated that it was none of her business and if the guys found out she knew anything, they would kill them both.

She further elaborated that the detectives told her not to go to the funeral because Kidd knew a lot and the guys thought he told her everything.

After her testimony Defense attorney’s stated that they had no other available witnesses at this time but would have some available tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m.

Testimony is expected to resume in the morning.


Whitton Trial, day nine
September 24, 2015

The final day in the nine day long murder trial of Barry Whitton began this morning with testimony of Jan Johnson, expert witness and owner of Forensics Pieces, Inc. from Florida. Johnson testified that she previously worked for the Florida State Crime lab, where she collected and preserved crime scene evidence. Johnson stated that during her career she went to any crime scene, documented blood spatter, fingerprints and tire tracks. She also stated she had over 5,000 hours in forensics classes. Johnson currently analyzes evidence and testifies in criminal cases, for the defense and prosecution all over the country. She also trains law enforcement on crime scenes all over the United States, South Africa, Brazil and Bermuda.

Johnson stated that she had reviewed crime scene photographs, search warrant photographs and testimony in this case, including photographs of the parties’ master bedroom. Johnson stated that she received the documents Thursday of last week and has worked approximately 40 hours on the case.

Johnson further testified that bloodstain pattern analysis is valuable information in cases. Often time’s blood is destroyed, however it can be detected by luminal. According to Johnson the type and direction of impact, the object that produced the spatter, and number of blows can be determined from blood analysis. These factors can all support or contradict statements given by a suspect or witness in cases, according to Johnson.

Johnson testified that when force impacts on blood, the more force and energy, the smaller the stains will be. Dynamic stains are from impact spatter from blunt force trauma. Johnson stated the shape of stains are important as well as they show a pattern. According to Johnson, when someone is injured and lying on the carpet, it will saturate into the carpet. She further stated that even when cleaning agents are used, stains can be found on the underside of carpet.

Johnson stated that based on Michelle’s injuries alleged to occur in the parties’ bedroom, she would expect to see cast off blood in the room. She further testified that she would have expected to see blood in the bathroom, if the body had been moved into the room, or if Whitton had cleaned up in the bathroom.

According to Johnson, the use of eyesight, UV light and additional light sources can be used in conjunction with luminal. Johnson further stated that luminal is nondestructive, it does not destroy DNA. She further stated that luminal gives a lot of false positives indoors and outdoors, but mainly outdoors. The agent reacts with chemicals from cleaning as well as metals including, rust, nails and copper. The agent also reactions with bleach. If sprayed and bleach has been used, it will luminal a green color, if possible blood is detected, it luminesces blue. Johnson further stated that if a positive is received with luminal, agents should do more specific testing, then send to the lab for confirmation. According to Johnson, both tests are presumptive.

Johnson also stated that it has been noted in several researches, that blood, including spatter, can be detected through paint and wallpaper.

Johnson stated that human blood was detected at Whitton’s but did not match a specific person. A blood stain cannot be aged. For example it could be there for years and you wouldn’t know. After finding a human blood stain you do a DNAprofiling. Luminal also helps determine clean. According to Johnson wipe marks could be seen if a surface had been wiped to clean up the blood.

Johnson did not observe anything that appeared to be clean up. She only saw two straight lines that appear to be 12 inches in length. According to Johnson there is no scale in the photograph to show how large the stain is in the photograph of luminal previously submitted by the state.

Johnson explained that drag marks can be detected if they are bleeding and are taken out of a scene. It appears to be a transfer impression. The type of trauma Michelle received she would expect to see a lot of saturation of blood, blood spatter on the walls, furniture. Bloody hair fibers spatter would be looked for at a crime scene. Johnson would expect blood spatter to be found at the home.

Johnson testified that it’s hard to clean up blood on carpet. Partially because of the wicking in carpet. Often times you would see more blood on the back side of the carpet instead of front. With a head injury she would expect saturation. If Michelle was dragged to bathroom it would be hard to clean up completely. Linoleum is easy to clean but there would be an indication of clean up with luminal. If the body was moved there would be blood in cars, carpet, through hallway and out the door.

Johnson testified that she did not do any testing on the evidence in this matter because there was not sufficient time. Johnson stated that she did not communicate with Roger Morrison, expert witness for the State, because witnesses do not communicate that way. She did later testify that she worked with Morrison previously in Alabama, on a case where she was testifying for the State and Morrison for the Defense.

She testified that bleach can be destructive but luminal reacts with those products normally you may have to take carpet into a lab and look at the underside. It’s impossible to get everything off the backing of the carpet.

Johnson stated that even if someone confessed, she would look at the physical evidence to look at the credibility of witnesses. If someone stated blood was all over the bed it should be behind bed into the mattress and in places not seen to the naked eye.

There should be trace evidence from house to car to scene.

If her body was in bedroom he would expect to find a drag mark on surface and below (under) the carpet.

Johnson testified that she has been hired by defense lawyers before and told them she could not help that the defendant should take a plea.

After hearing Johnson’s testimony, the defense rested.

Closing arguments began shortly after. Assistant Attorney General John Hensley gave closing on behalf of the state. Hensley spoke to jurors about the search of truth and the law. Hensley explained the elements of murder to the jury. Michelle Whitton is dead caused by blunt force trauma; the defendant killed Michelle on Saturday, December 6 before getting into bed. Hensley stated the couple got into an argument because Michelle was leaving Whitton. She threw something at him, he came around the bed, started beating her in the head with a shotgun and left drag marks in the floor. He tried to clean up, loaded Michelle up, drover her out to the woods and buried her body in a shallow grave under a pile of rocks. Outside of hearsay and gossip, everything points to Whitton, according to Hensley. The third element is that he killed her willingly. Hensley stated that Dr. Embry testified that the part of Michelle’s head that was cracked was the hardest bone in the human body. The force required to break the bone was immense. Her murder was intentional.

Hensley stated that their burden was to prove to each jury member that Whitton killed Michelle intentionally beyond all reasonable doubt. He asked jurors to use common sense.

Hensley further stated that the law says that circumstantial and direct evidence is to be given the same way. “In this case we have both and they co-oberate each other. There’s only one person with motive, only one person with opportunity, only one person that the evidence points to, and that’s the defendant, Barry Whitton. This case is about justice and accountability. Its bene 18 years, it’s about time, we found justice. I’m going to ask you to hold this defendant accountable for what he did to Michelle.” stated Hensley.

Defense attorney Gerald Paulk gave closing statements on behalf of the Whitton. Paulk stated that this is not a laughing matter, not to the defense, not to Whitton, not to Michelle’s family. He stated that this case is about connecting the dots. He stated that he has practiced law for 36 years and he’s never heard a member of prosecution state,” We didn’t consider that because it didn’t fit in our timeline. He alleged that before even confirming the body found was Michelle, Doyle York, Michelle’s first cousin by marriage was already ready to have a hanging. He also explained to jurors that the State’s cornerstone is not possible. The timeline does not add up. Witnesses have testified that Michelle was seen on Sunday morning and their statements were very detailed including the type of clothing she was wearing. Her stomach was full of food, and according to experts, she had eaten within two hours. A receipt from Cracker Barrel shows 6:40 p.m. and Michelle’s grandmother testified she was dropped off by Michelle at 8:50 p.m. Michelle would have not gotten home until after 9 p.m. Paulk also stated that testimony throughout the trial has come from several witnesses stating that the Whitton’s’ got along well. No trace or other evidence anywhere link to Whitton according to Paulk.

Paulk further stated, “Barry Whitton is not that brilliant. In fact, the state said he didn’t know about luminal, but they allege he knew to get rid of both seen and unseen blood and if you try to clean them up you can see a different pattern. The state’s position is that he’s so brilliant that he cleaned it all up and buried her body in a place where he would go and no one would ever think it was him.”

He ended by stating, “The cornerstone is set in the wrong place. The state has no case. I’m confident you’ll return a verdict of not guilty.”

Assistant Attorney General Leigh Gwathney addressed the jury for the final time this afternoon. Gwathney began by stating that this is an 18 year-long nightmare for reasons other than what the defendant wants to tell. She stated “we are here today because of justice. There have been a lot of things that have been said today about the defendant’s nightmare. So, I want us to talk about what the real evidence and nightmare is. Because we’re going to ask you to find him guilty. It’s not about everybody else, it’s about one person and there is every reason to know it’s about one person. There has been a lot said and I believe it is my job to make sure that I talk about how we know it is Barry Whitton beyond a reasonable doubt. Who had the motive? We have heard a lot of things. We have heard about this Folk Gang. When all the evidence points to him and you put a lot of pieces of bait out there and you hope someone will bite. That’s what they did with the Folk Gang and Shane Byrum. It’s a gang that doesn’t take her wallet, credit cards or the gun in her car. Instead what you hear that it’s a gang of kids who want to act like they know something. Eighteen years ago there was a whole lot of folks who wanted to act like they knew something. They chased every lead and it went nowhere. When a Donna Jo comes into the courtroom and tells she’s sorry for the lies she told. Still 18 years later, we deal with the lies she told. Let’s deal with the truth. The truth is the truth all day long. Shane Byrum, whose wallet is out there on his daddy’s property, did he lose it was it stolen? Do I care? No. I haven’t heard a thing about why Byrum would want Michelle dead. The defendant, does he have a motive. I submit to you that he does. She was going to leave him, she was going to divorce him. There was one person who we’ve heard had a motive to kill Michelle. They want to talk about who sees her when. All these people see her that morning, well, where was Shane Byrum then? He was in Baltimore. Who had the opportunity? Dr. Embry says it would have been about 2 hours after she ate. The time on the receipt is 6:46 p.m. We know what time she gets home, we also know what time he kills her from David Young. He tells him they had an argument and he killed her while getting ready for bed. Tell me how all these guys get into her bedroom on Saturday night. He tells Atkinson that the car was taken to where it was found at night.” Gwathney further stated, “When you cut someone’s face to literally deface a human being it's personal. You know what a gangster does? They walk up to someone and put a bullet in their head. They don’t bash your head in. They put a bullet in your head or in your chest. This was very personal and everything about this crime was personal. He bashed her head in. “She stated, “We know he wrapped her up in something before he took her out there to bury her in that shallow grave. Do we really think that the man who is so determined to get rid of the woman that he hates , to bash her head in is not motivated to wrap her up and drag her downhill. Four men removed her from her grave. Four men showed her more respect than he ever did. Don’t bite on that. Don’t bite on men who cared enough to treat her with dignity and respect.” “I submit to you that the shotgun is not wobbly, it’s perfectly in place. Take it back there. See what you think. The defendant changes his story over and over again. They want to say that’s not blood on the carpet, its bleach. He says its blood on the carpet. So, to his parents he says it’s from her monthly cycle, on another occasion it’s from having intercourse, on another occasion it’s where she cut herself. Barry Whitton will change his story as many times as he needs to serve his needs. Until its fun. Until he finds two people in 2007 that he wants to get glory in what he did. Two people who got nothing for testifying here this week. David Young who said he waited until he could get away from Barry Whitton. Whitton finally tells something that makes sense. To Young he says he beat her in bedroom, drug her to bathroom and finished her off, wrapped her in something, put a towel around her head and buried her. Told him he got away with it because something was found near her car and because he’s a genius. Kenneth McNally was told they got in an argument, buried her on a bluff, towel in the grave that matched towels from the house. He planned to be able to go back to his favorite place and look down in glory.” said Gwathney.

Gwathney further stated, “Was Whitton cooperative because he gave them consent to search or was he confident? He was confident because he had time to cut out the carpet, paint. He was uncooperative because he didn’t tell Wes Corbitt any of the details when making the missing person’s report. He knows where she is. I submit to you in those moments in time when she was cut Whitton didn’t know if she was unconscious or dead. He took a knife to see if she would move, cut her face, throat and chest.”

Whitton became visibly upset during the State’s final statement. Gwathney finished by stating, “Somehow 18 years later, in a trial that lasts two weeks, we can forget what this case is really all about;. Because what this case is really all about is Michelle Whitton, the woman who made everyone feel like they were her best friend. It’s not a credibility issue. It speaks about the character of Michelle who can light up a room and make everyone feel loved. It’s why many say she was their best friend. Because 17 years ago Michelle was a mother, and a daughter and a sister and a friend. She was a mother who should have been able to raise Ethan Whitton and Ethan Whitton should have had a mother to raise him. Seventeen years ago Michelle had a future. And they can talk about how Barry Whitton’s future is in your hands. Well her future was in her hands and he took it. He took her future from every person who needed her, loved her and wanted her and that is what this case is about. Two weeks later, when we do all of this we forget this is what this is about. There is one person that had every motive, opportunity and reason to take her away. And one person who says he’s smarter than all of us. They’ll never get him because of everything else. She will never matter. Tell him that he is not the genius that will get away with this. Tell him that 17 years later she matters and find him guilty.

Following closing statements Judge John Graham addressed the jury regarding charges. He stated that the court and jury play separate roles during the case. He explained, “The Court determines the law, the jury determines the facts. The defendant states he is not guilty. This casts to the state to determine he is guilty and guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Whitton has a right to remain silent. The burden is never upon the defendant, the burden is upon the state and remains throughout the trial. The term reasonable doubt is not possible doubt, reasonable doubt is doubt of a fair-minded juror, to doubt based upon reason, common sense. There are two kinds of evidence, direct and circumstantial. A conviction may be based upon both. The verdict you reach in this case must not be reached on speculation. This defendant comes to court cloaked with a presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence alone is enough to find the defendant innocent. As I stated before, you are the sole judges of the evidence. Consider witness appearance and demeanor of witnesses, opportunity to have knowledge.”

Graham explained the elements of murder to include that Michelle is dead, that the defendant caused her death and that he acted with intent.

He further explained that a unanimous decision must be made by the jury.

The jury was sent in to deliberate at 2:41 p.m.

At 4:47 p.m., the jury returned with a verdict. The jury has found Barry Van Whitton guilty of the 1997 murder of his first wife, Michelle Whitton.

Whitton was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife, Michelle Whitton. His second wife, Kimberly Compton Whitton  and step daughter, Haleigh Culwell are still missing.

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