Independence Examiner, Friday 05/03/02

Case Guilty

23-year-old's friends weep as jury delivers verdict

The Examiner

A Jackson County jury on Thursday found Byron Case, 23, guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the 1997 death of 18-year-old Anastasia WitbolsFeugen of Independence.

Case, who appeared calm and confident on the stand Wednesday, was pale and visibly shaken as he left the courtroom Thursday. About a dozen of Case's young friends, present to support him during the trial, sobbed and hugged each other after Case was led away by jail guards.

Case's friends declined to comment on the trial, saying they did not want to compromise Case's chance for a new trial. However, they all said they would come back to support Byron again, if a new trial is granted. Defense attorney Horton Lance said he will file a motion for a new trial. He had no other comment.

Prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty against Case. Under Missouri law, a first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.

The defense maintains that Anastasia was the victim of random violence. She was found shot in the head in Lincoln Cemetery, just west of Independence city limits, on Oct. 23, 1997.

The defense did not deny that Case was with WitbolsFeugen and two other friends, Justin Bruton and Kelly Moffett, the night of the shooting. Case testified that WitbolsFeugen fought with her boyfriend, Bruton, and walked away from Bruton's car at Interstate 435 and Truman Road.

Moffett, 19, told the same story for many years. She finally came forward in September of 2000 and accused Case of the shooting. Her testimony was the only evidence against Case. Police found no murder weapon or other physical evidence.

In closing arguments Thursday, Lance tried to portray Moffett as a chronic liar and drug-addict who was out to get Case, her former-boyfriend. Judging by the verdict, the jury did not buy the defense argument. All the jurors left Thursday without comment.

Nadine Case, Byron's grandmother, said even she was unsure of the real truth. She was surprised, she said, that the jury did not have some reasonable doubt.

"I am not making any decision about who is telling the truth and who isn't. The good Lord knows who did it. We have just been praying for justice to prevail," Nadine Case said. "Needless to say, it's very stressful on everybody."

Bob WitbolsFeugen, the victim's father, said he never had any doubt that Kelly Moffett was telling the truth.

He commended her for coming forward, even after such a long wait.

"I have no doubt that being 14, and hanging out with people that were 19 and 20 years old, had a strong influence on her being able to overcome this story and tell the truth," Bob WitbolsFeugen said.

Anastasia's mother, Betsy Owens, said Moffett's testimony relieved some of her anxiety over her daughter's death.

"Kelly's testimony answered a lot of questions for me about what Anastasia actually went through in the final minutes before her death. That has always been a nightmare for me," Owens said.

Still, the family is struggling with lingering questions.

"It would be better to know why he did it," said Katie WitbolsFeugen, 18, the victim's sister. "But, I am relieved it is finally over. It is good to put a face and a name on the man who killed her."

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