Kansas City Star, Tuesday 04/30/02

`Horrible secret' led key witness to drug addiction

The Kansas City Star

The senseless murder of a college student 4 1/2 years ago -- and its horrible secret -- drove a teen-age witness into depression and drug addiction, prosecutors said Monday, until she told the truth.

She is now the key witness testifying against Byron Case in the murder of 18-year-old Anastasia WitbolsFeugen of Independence.

Case's trial on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action started Monday in Jackson County Circuit Court.

The defense attorney said witness Kelly Moffett of Lenexa is lying.

Whatever the trial's outcome, testimony Monday made it clear that the murder of a college student in a graveyard either ended or forever changed the lives of three friends with her that night.

One was WitbolsFeugen's boyfriend, Justin Bruton, 20, a college student with a condo on the Country Club Plaza. He killed himself shortly after the murder.

The two others, Case, 23, and Moffett, 19, were boyfriend and girlfriend then. There is no dispute that all four friends were in a car together on Oct. 22, 1997.

Hours later, police found WitbolsFeugen dead. She had been killed by a shotgun blast to the face in Lincoln Cemetery, between Kansas City and Independence.

For years, Case and Moffett told police that WitbolsFeugen and Bruton had argued in the car, that WitbolsFeugen got out, and that they never saw her again.

On Monday, Moffett told jurors what she said was a truth that destroyed her life at age 14. From her story:

She and the two young men were in the car drinking whiskey and going to pick up WitbolsFeugen when they told her they'd decided to kill the girl.

WitbolsFeugen had been arguing with Bruton and demanding commitment, they said.

Bruton said he couldn't kill her but Case would because "Byron's always had a weird fascination with death."

Moffett said she thought it would never happen -- like the two men's previous plans to rob Bruton's rich Oklahoma parents or plant a bomb in an Independence church and demand ransom.

"It was like they were all talk, and they'd seen too many movies," she testified.

But then they picked up WitbolsFeugen and drove to the cemetery. The victim and Bruton stepped out the car to talk, and argued again.

Moffett stayed in the car with Case, who told her, "Justin asked me to do it, and I want to do it, so I'm going to."

Case got out and she heard the car's trunk pop open. Then "I could see Justin waving his arms, saying Byron's name, saying something in German." Case raised the gun and shot WitbolsFeugen.

They got in the car, drove off and left the body. "Justin was saying, `Didn't you hear me yell `stop'?" And Case said, "I already had the gun out -- what did you expect me to do? You asked me to do this." Bruton, Moffet testified, just kept saying, "It just isn't right, it just isn't right."

They quickly agreed to a false story: WitbolsFeugen stepped out of the car and the young men took Moffett home. Bruton called WitbolsFeugen's sister from there and told the false story to her. His face was white when he hung up the phone.

Bruton told them what the sister said to him: "If anything happens to my sister, it's your fault."

"It was like she already knew," Bruton told them. He disappeared a day later. Police found his body two days later in rural Johnson County. Moffett said that she had broken up with Case about a year later and that the secret kept tearing at her.

"I went from living in Johnson County with my family to staying in a crack house," she said. "All I did was have nightmares about this."

Two years ago, she struck an agreement with prosecutors, who granted her immunity in exchange for her story.

Assistant prosecutor Theresa Crayon played tapes Moffett had made of calls to Case after she came forward. Moffett told Case that police were pressuring her to talk, and Case told her: "Just say you can't remember." He does not admit to the killing on the tapes, but does not deny it.

Under cross-examination, defense attorney Horton Lance noted that Moffett at different times had also told people that Bruton did the killing. She said she did so out of fear she would be prosecuted.

In opening statements for the defense, Lance said Case was not guilty and would testify. In the end, Lance said, the truth will be that someone killed Anastasia WitbolsFeugen after she got out a car in anger and walked into a graveyard at night -- "a random act of violence by an unknown stranger."

The trial continues today.

To reach Joe Lambe, Jackson County courts reporter, call (816) 234-4314 or send e-mail to jlambe@kcstar.com .
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