No new trial in sight for Blue Springs man

Mike Genet
The Examiner USA TODAY NETWORK

The attorney for a Blue Springs man convicted of killing his wife 30 years ago has pleaded with Jackson County prosecutor's office to seek new trial under new state law for his client, who he says was wrongly convicted. 

In a letter this summer to the prosecutor's office, Kent Gipson says his client, Kenneth Middleton, deserves a fair trial due to the prosecution's “circumstantial case” and ineffective counsel at the time. He has asked Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to petition the state in a similar manner to what her office announced Monday it was doing in the highly publicized Kevin Strickland case. 

However, a spokesperson said the prosecutor's office has reviewed the case and doesn't appear inclined to take the same path as the Strickland case. 

“We've reviewed this case numerous times, and there's nothing new,” spokesperson Mike Mansur said. 

Middleton was convicted in February 1991 of killing his wife, Kathy, the year before in their Blue Springs home. Gipson argues that Middleton's attorney at the time, the late Robert Duncan, never challenged the circumstantial case against Middleton.  

Gipson writes that Middleton's case “has most, if not all of the warning signs for a wrongful conviction,” including a faulty police investigation and that Duncan failed to call witnesses or offer objections. 

Gipson also notes higher courts overturned other murder convictions in which Duncan was the defense attorney. 

In 2005, former Jackson County Judge Edith Messina granted Middleton a new trial due to ineffective counsel, but an appeals court reversed that ruling based on a lack of jurisdiction. Even so, Gipson wrote, the substance of Messina's ruling remains and should be grounds enough for the prosecutor to ask for a new trial. The jury in 1991 did not hear the full evidence, Gipson wrote, because Duncan was “utterly incompetent” with his defense and did not present any evidence. 

Mansur said Middleton case is not the same as the Strickland conviction from more than 40 years ago, which is being challenged because of new information about the only eyewitness – “the only evidence against him.” Specifically, the eyewitness long ago recanted her statement. In Middleton's case, such a development in evidence has not occurred, he said. 

“He's raising the issue of Judge Messina, but that was overruled by the appeals court,” Mansur said. “There's not much road for us to drive on there. If there was something new, we would.” 

“Every case is different,” he said. “If there is a pathway we can take if we believe he's innocent, we'd have to go before the court and argue that.”