LEBANON, Ohio – A former Ohio policeman who spent over a decade behind bars for his wife's death before his conviction was overturned pleaded guilty Thursday to charges alleging he hired her killers, under a deal that lets him remain free on probation and maintain innocence.
Former Springboro Lt. Thomas "Jim" Barton was scheduled for a new trial Nov. 3. The 61-year-old entered an Alford plea on charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated burglary, meaning he doesn't admit guilt but concedes prosecutors had evidence to convict him.
Investigators said his wife, Vickie, was killed in 1995 as part of a botched burglary that Barton paid to have staged. Prosecutors alleged Barton wanted to scare his wife into moving from their rural home to Springboro, near Dayton, to improve his chances of becoming police chief of the small city.
Barton's actions triggered events that led to his wife's death at the hands of someone else, but authorities don't believe that he intended to kill her or that his release poses a risk to the public, said Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell, who called the plea deal "a good resolution for both sides."
A message seeking comment was left for Barton's attorney, Christopher Pagan.
Barton's 2005 conviction for aggravated burglary and involuntary manslaughter had been overturned last year based on prosecutorial misconduct and questions about witness testimony. An appeals court panel said the state's case relied heavily on a witness who presented an "unsupported, shifting and somewhat fantastical" story at trial, and suppression of evidence made it more difficult for Barton to discredit the state's theory.
Authorities said a career criminal implicated his own half brother in the crime with an unidentified accomplice, and the accused half brother killed himself months after the slaying. No one else was charged, and Barton was freed after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider reinstating his conviction.
Fornshell said prosecutors agreed to a plea deal for several reasons, including uncertainty about what testimony from the criminal witness would be allowed at the new trial and how a federal appeals court ruling might affect Barton's sentencing if he was convicted again.