Independence Examiner, Thursday 05/02/02

Defense says witness lied

Case says he told truth in '97 and now

The Examiner

Byron Case on Wednesday steadfastly denied any involvement in the shooting death of Anastasia WitbolsFeugen. Case is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of the Independence teen.

Case, 23, appeared calm and confident as he related his version of events of Oct. 22, 1997. He said he and former girlfriend Kelly Moffet accompanied his best friend, Juston Bruton, to pick up WitbolsFeugen that evening. The four friends drove to Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence about 7:30 p.m. Bruton and WitbolsFeugen, an on-again-off-again couple, argued in the car, Case said.

They left Mount Washington and drove west on Truman Road while the argument continued. When they stopped at Interstate 435 and Truman, Case said, WitbolsFeugen got out of the car and walked away.

"I don't know anything about what happened to her after she got out of the car," Case testified.

Case told the same story to Jackson County Sheriff's investigators on Oct. 24, 1997, the day after WitbolsFeugen, 18, was found dead in Lincoln Cemetery. Lincoln is on Truman Road in an unincorporated area of the county, just east of I-435 and west of Independence city limits.

Case said Wednesday that he was telling the truth then, and he is telling the truth now.

Kelly Moffet told police the same story as Case in 1997. Now, however, she says that story was a lie concocted by Case and Bruton to hide a brutal murder. She testified Tuesday that Case and Bruton planned to kill WitbolsFeugen because she was constantly harassing Bruton about the status of their relationship. Moffett said they all went together from Mount Washington to Lincoln Cemetery, where Case shot WitbolsFeugen in the face at close range with a long-barreled gun.

Moffet said Case threw the gun away in an industrial area not far from the cemetery but could not pinpoint the location. Prosecutors have not presented a murder weapon or any other physical evidence in the case.

Moffett said the murder drove her into a life of drug addiction and homelessness. She finally came forward, she said, because it was the only way to get her life back together.

Case's attorneys painted Moffett as a troubled teen, whose drug problems and lying started long before WitbolsFeugen's death. Case testified Wednesday that when he met Moffett she claimed her father was an alcoholic and abusive. Case said he later learned that was not true, but he still felt obligated to help Moffett. The couple stayed together for almost a year after WitbolsFeugen's death.

"I guess I thought maybe I could save her or something," Case said.

On cross examination, prosecutors intimated that Case stayed with Moffett to control her and to make sure she did not come forward with the truth. Case denied there was anything to hide.

The defense also presented testimony from a mechanic who was working at the Amoco service station at I-435 and Truman Road the night of the killing. He said he remembered seeing a girl walking away from a car at that intersection around 8 p.m. Several days later, police showed him a picture of WitbolsFeugen. He said looked like the girl he saw.

Two of Case's friends also testified Wednesday that they saw Case and Bruton later that night. Both witnesses said the two men did not appear agitated or upset.

Bruton, however, never told authorities his version of what happened. He committed suicide the day after the slaying. He was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a rural area near DeSoto, Kan.

Prosecutors established that Bruton bought the shotgun he used to kill himself that same morning. They also established, and Case confirmed, that Bruton bought another shotgun about six weeks before WitbolsFeugen's death. The whereabouts of that weapon has not been revealed at trial.

The defense rested its case Wednesday evening. Closing arguments were to begin this morning. The jury is expected to begin deliberations this afternoon.

Also Wednesday, the judge certified Case as a prior felony offender. Case pleaded guilty in 1998 to a Class C felony charge of stealing in Clay County. Under Missouri statute, prior offender status gives sentencing authority to the judge, as opposed to a jury sentence.

If convicted, Case could face life in prison without possibility of parole.

To reach Darla McFarland e-mail or call her at 350-6321.
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