Kansas City Star, Thursday 05/02/02

Murder suspect tries to debunk key witness

The Kansas City Star

A Kansas City man charged in the murder of a college student testified Wednesday that the state's key witness, his former girlfriend, lied to police because he spurned her.

The defendant, Byron Case, 23, told jurors in Jackson County Circuit Court about the night he last saw Anastasia WitbolsFeugen of Independence.

Police found her dead on Oct. 23, 1997, shot in the face in a graveyard between Kansas City and Independence. She had not been sexually assaulted. And no defensive wounds indicated that she fought an assailant.

There was no dispute at trial this week that WitbolsFeugen, 18, was in a car with three friends before her death. One person was her boyfriend, Justin Bruton, 20, with whom she had a stormy relationship. Bruton committed suicide after her murder.

The other two persons in the car were Case and his then-14-year-old girlfriend, Kelly Moffett of Lenexa. Moffett, now 19, testified earlier this week that Case was fascinated with death and shot WitbolsFeugen because Bruton asked him to.

After the murder, Moffett said, the three of them made up a story that the victim, angry at Bruton, got out of the car at Truman Road and Interstate 435 and walked away. That was near Lincoln Cemetery, where she was found dead.

Moffett maintained that story for years, she said, until the truth drove her into depression and drug addiction. She said she told police two years ago what happened that night after she was granted immunity from prosecution.

She said she later worked with police and called Case twice, trying to get him to admit to the murder on tape. Case does not admit to the killing in the tapes, nor does he deny it.

Case testified Wednesday that he was extremely ill both times Moffett called.

"I think I might have just misunderstood what she was talking about," he said.

He testified that WitbolsFeugen argued with Bruton and then got out of the car at a stoplight on Truman Road.

"Justin had made a comment that kind of made her blow her top," Case testified Wednesday. He said she had asked Bruton, "Why don't you love me anymore?"

"Justin had said, `I don't know,' " Case said.

WitbolsFeugen got out of the car, Case testified, and Bruton drove off. As he drove west on Truman Road, Case said, Bruton told him, "I might as well kill myself."

Case said he and Moffett broke up the following year but he later got the impression she wanted him back.

"She'd make phone calls to me. They all kind of blend together. There were so many of them," he said. "She'd say things like, `We were so good together.' "

In cross-examination, assistant Prosecutor Dave Fry noted that Moffett testified that she called Case only to get him to deal with the murder and end the secrecy.

Case said he once hung up on Moffett, who later called police and falsely reported he was suicidal. As a result, he said, he spent 24 hours in a mental-health facility.

In other defense testimony, a gas station mechanic told jurors that he saw a woman matching WitbolsFeugen's description walk away from a car at a stoplight by Truman Road and I-435 on Oct. 22, 1997, the evening of the murder.

The woman appeared upset and passed by service-station pay phones as she walked east on Truman Road, he said.

Fry said that if the woman had been WitbolsFeugen, she would have used the phone to get a ride home.

Defense lawyer Horton Lance argued that point, citing testimony that no one was at WitbolsFeugen's home that evening.

Closing arguments are expected 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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