Penn Valley Community CollegeSpectrum, July 2002

Re-examining the Case:

Mother of Byron Case Insists Her Son's Case is Not Closed

By Sherii Parrett, Penn Valley Community College Spectrum

(precise date unavailable, printed July 2002)

Please note that Anastasia's family was not consulted nor even informed in any way by the writer of this story, nor by the advisor of this junior college newspaper. It is our belief that this was done with deliberate intent. The story contains many blatant inaccuracies as well as defamatory accusations against the eyewitness in this criminal case. Please also note that a member of the Spectrum staff was a sibling of one of Byron Case's witnesses in his trial, though the paper's advisor insisted that this is "simply a coincidence". When asked why he allowed his staff to write such a one-sided story without checking a single fact, and why neither he nor his staff had the courtesy to inform the victim's family that this story was being published and without offering them a chance to respond when he must have known the story would be inflammatory, Spectrum advisor Craig Bartholomaus replied evasively that he "did not want to upset the family", as if talking about Anastasia's murder after the guilty verdict (and nearly five years after the murder itself), something they had already done with a Pitch reporter, would be so upsetting, and as if our finding the story as printed wouldn't be upsetting. Mr. Bartholomaus also claimed that he and his staff had "bent over backwards to be fair", though he refused to cite any acts that would support such an assertion, and despite the fact that no apparent fact-checking had been done. The truth is more likely that Mr. Bartholomaus and his "writers" had always intended to write a slanted story and were simply hoping that Anastasia's family would never find out about it.

Five years ago on a Fall night in October, Anastasia WitbolsFeugen, 18, died. Somewhere between the hours when her friends allegedly saw her stomp off down Truman Road in Independence, Missouri, and the time her body was discovered in Lincoln Cemetery, Anastasia WitbolsFeugen was murdered. The discovery of WitbolsFeugen's dead body began a spiral of questions without answers.

A Jackson County sheriff's deputy found her lying in the road in the cemetery at 3:45 a.m. This confirmed her family's worst fears since they learned of her disappearance. At around 10:30 p.m. the night before, they received a call from Anastasia WitbolsFeugen's boyfriend, Justin Bruton, 18. He called to ask whether or not Anastasia made it home.

He explained that at around 8:30 p.m. they had had another fight, and in one of her usual tantrums, WitbolsFeugen got out of his car and refused to get back in. Bruton discovered she hadn't made it home yet. Nor would she ever.

Police tried to piece together what happened that night. They spoke to her friends, Byron Case, 18 and Kelly Moffett, 14, and were looked for unsuccessfully for Bruton. They were together with her just hours before her brutal death and the last persons known to have seen her alive. They all gave the same account of their last hours with WitbolsFeugen.

They recounted to police exactly what Bruton told WitbolsFeugen's father the night before. WitbolsFeugen got out of Justin's car and ran off after their argument. This was typical behavior for the young woman.

Only hours after WitbolsFeugen's body was discovered, in an act as stormy and unstable as their relationship, Bruton bought a gun and committed suicide. His body was found in DeSoto, Kansas.

Please check here for an alternative view and the full set of facts regarding Justin Bruton's "suicide". And as a note about accuracy, The description of Anastasia's "running off" was never described as "typical behavior" by anyone except Byron Case. Also, Justin Bruton's death actually occured about 50 hours (more than two days) after Anastasia's, though he bought a shotgun about 14 hours after her murder, about seven hours after the discovery of her body, and several hours before she was publicly identified.
Meanwhile, no clues were uncovered to identify WitbolsFeugen's murderer. No forensic evidence was gathered that might give any indication as to who the murderer might be. She had been shot in the face. There was no sign of a struggle. Police speculated that she either knew or was surprised by her attacker.
The second sentence of the preceding paragraph is misleading. Forensic evidence was gathered, and some was used at the trial. While it did not definitively place Byron Case at the scene, it did definitely ruled out the "random killer" upon which Case's alibi was so dependent. And by deduction, it left only a few possibilities as to who it might be, and Byron Case was top of that list. One of the key claims by Case and his supporters was that no forensic evidence was gathered at the scene, and they believe that it was necessary to prove Case's guilt 101% (beyond the shadow of a doubt), but their belief is at odds with reality.

Also, the statement, "surprised by her attacker" leaves some information out and is also misleading. The conclusion by forensic experts was that she was not abducted (there was absolutely no sign of any struggle), and that she was not only aware of her killer's presence, but was unconcerned with that presence, apparently unaware of his intent (he walked up close enough to her to stick a gun in her face, but she did not react until the very last second, and took no defensive action, indicating that she was aware that someone was behind her, but was not concerned about it).

Saying that she was "surprised by her attacker" makes it sound like he jumped out from behind a bush. Such was not the case.

Her family would not rest until they could put a name to the person capable of killing their daughter in cold blood. They offered a monetary reward to anyone who could give information about their daughter's death.

For years, the crime went unsolved and WitbolsFeugen's death remained a mystery. To not know who killed their child was an insufferable conundrum for her parents, Robert WitbolsFeugen and Diane Marshall.

Her father spent hours making calls and writing letters to the Independence Police Department. He contacted the Police Department so many times that he received a letter from them asking him to stop.

This year, on May 5, 2002, a friend of Anastasia WitbolsFeugen's was convicted for her murder. Now, her parents believe they finally have a name for their daughter's killer - Byron Case - and they are relieved. "It is good to put a face and a name on the man who killed her," Katie WitbolsFeugen, 18, the victim's sister said after the sentencing in June.

Actually, the word "friend" exaggerates the relationship between Byron Case and Anastasia. The two were at most former friends, and at the time of Anastasia's murder, they had an active dislike for each other. This information came out during Case's murder trial, and was confirmed by Tara McDowell, one of his own defense witnesses.
Kelly Moffett, 18, Case's girlfriend, who was together with him and WitbolsFeugen the night of her death, provided the name.

Nearly half a decade after giving an account that corresponded with Case's account of what happened the night the murder occurred, Moffett deviated from her original story. In the interim, Case broke off his relationship with her.

The "nearly half a decade" line is especially slanted. Kelly Moffett's testimony changed after two years and 10 months. While "nearly half a decade" is technically not inaccurate, it is aslo similar to considering a 28-year-old person to be "nearly a half-century old"; while not exactly a lie, it is not exactly the truth, either, and slants the reader's perspective.

And Kelly Moffett did not "deviate" from her original story: she categorically repudiated her earlier testimony. She went from agreeing completely with Case's cover story to stating that he had murdered Anastasia, and that their earlier story was part of a coverup. There is a major difference between the two, and the using the word "deviate" was intended solely to further slant the issue and lead the reader to a different conclusion.

Friends of Case and Moffett say she was very bitter over the break-up. They heard her say she was going to make Case's life a "living hell." Case would tell you from where he sits, behind bars and sentenced to life in prison without parole, that in that, she succeeded.
This is a lynchpin of Case's claim to innocence, trying to paint Kelly Moffett as a bitter, nearly psychotic ex-girlfriend who would do anything to hurt him. The problem is that there never were any "friends of Case and Moffett", and there is nobody who actually made the preceding statement about Kelly, other than Byron Case himself. Since being challenged to provide names of those "friends" and asked why they have not come forward publicly, Case's "official" story has changed so that Kelly made the threat directly to him (with, conveniently, no witnesses). Case now claims that he would have made note of her threat if only he had known that he was a suspect at the time; the problem with that claim is that he did know he was a suspect, and he never brought this particular accusation up in court when he had the chance.

And, as a final aside, Kelly Moffett was the one who broke up with Byron Case, and did so long before she became State's Evidence against him.

In a recent letter to Pitch Weekly, Patrick Rock, a WitbolsFeugen family member, commented that "Anastasia's family just feels fortunate that one individual with a conscience finally came forward and brought that much of our nightmare to a close." (June 27, '02).

In May, based solely on the testimony of Moffett, with no physical evidence, no other witnesses, and without money to pay for his own attorney, Case was found guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action for the 1997 shooting death of Anastasia WitbolsFeugen.

"Based solely on the testimony of Moffett" is an absolute untruth. Case was convicted on forensic testimony making it clear beyond reasonable doubt that Anastasia could not have been killed by a stranger (which left Case's alibi extremely suspect), eyewitness testimony by Kelly Moffett that matched the forensic evidence (where and in what direction Anastasia fell, in what manner she was shot, what she was doing in the seconds before her death), and a taped tacit admission by Byron Case. This is one of the greatest journalistic sins of this article, deliberately withholding important information from the reader and supplying false information instead.
Moffett testified at the trial that Case and WitbolsFeugen's boyfriend, Justin Bruton, plotted to kill WitbolsFeugen on October 22, 1997. 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 accused of the crime.
In testimony during the trial, Debra Moffett said that her daughter first admitted that she had witnessed Anastasia's murder, and let her mother fill in the blank by not disagreeing when her mother asked whether it had been Justin. Kelly admitted later to her father that the killer was Byron Case, but by her own admission panicked when told by a counselor that the police would have to be notified, fearing she would be tried as an accessory, and blamed Justin. That was the only time she actually named Justin, and she quickly recanted that when confronted by her mother. Saying she had "at different times" accused Justin portrays a falsely high degree of inconsistency.
With Case's conviction and sentencing, some of the anger and frustration the WitbolsFeugen family experienced is now assuaged. To them, justice is served. They feel some small solace, but certainly no relief, to the wracking pain that a parent carries when their child's life is taken.

While the WitbolsFuegen family celebrates his conviction, Case's mother, Evelyn Case, is in an agony of her own. Living with the firm belief that her child is wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime he did not commit brings her a torment similar to what the WitbolsFeugen's experienced. She believes her son's life, as he knew it in freedom, was also taken from him. "They've got the wrong person," she maintains.

"The key witness to testify at the trial earlier this year was an angry ex-girlfriend and not a very credible witness," Case stated. "The prosecution had no motive and no physical evidence," she adds.

The phrase "celebrates his conviction" is inflammatory, and the writer of this article has no way of knowing that, since she never contacted the family in any way. For the record, the family received no joy from the conviction, and damned little closure, but does get the grim satisfaction of seeing Anastasia's killer given his day in court, and convicted upon the evidence presented.

As far as Evelyn Case's description of Kelly Moffett's motives, that is her opinion, not fact, and presents only one side of the story. As for her description of Moffett being a "not very credible witness", the jury disagreed with her; it found Kelly Moffett to be highly credible, in fact much more credible than they found Evelyn Case to be.

"The media is no help, either. That Pitch Weekly article was very one-sided and I wrote to them about that," says Case, 50.

She refers to the following letter she wrote to Pitch Weekly, (May 30, '02):

"Allie Johnson's 'Cemetery Plot' infuriated me. In my opinion, it was skewed. I was disappointed in the accuracy of several "facts" cited. She obviously had access to Byron's Web site, given the frequent references that were made in the story (quotations and even the use of photos from the site). I found it in poor taste that out of the portraits of Byron available on the site (which depicted a smiling, jovial young man), the Pitch opted to use one that would give readers an impression fitting for such a biased account. Those of us who know and love him and would be willing to put our hands in the fire for him have been devastated enough by these events. It's horrible when just one person is the accuser -- regardless of their reasons why -- but when the media joins in, it's almost too much to bear. I speak for all of Byron's friends and loved ones when I say that we feel deceived by the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing approach used by your reporter. There is a Turkish saying: 'A liar's candle burns until everybody sleeps at night.' Evelyn Case, Kansas City, Missouri."

This is the letter to which the family responded. Allie Johnson responded as well, stating that she made no such promise to Evelyn Case. It is interesting (and, we believe, another attempt at slanting the story) that the Spectrum reporter quoted Evelyn Case's letter in its entirety, but selectively quoted from our response and failed to mention Ms. Johnson's response at all.

For the record, here is Allie Johnson's response in that same issue:

At her son's trial, I asked Evelyn Case for an interview. She declined.

Ms. Case later called me, and we had several long phone conversations; she had plenty of opportunities to comment for publication, but I understood these conversations to be off the record because she was concerned that her speaking to the media might hurt her son's appeal. I never led her to believe that I was there to provide "assistance in getting her son's case re-examined."

My goal was to write a comprehensive story about Anastasia WitbolsFeugen's murder. Ms. Case never made any documents available to me, nor did I receive any information from her that I "did not research." I also spoke with Byron Case. I asked both Ms. Case and Byron Case to provide specific details or documentation that would support Byron's claims of innocence, and neither of them did.

And our reply to Ms. Case's letter, printed four weeks later:
I read two letters in the May 30 issue regarding Allie Johnson's "Cemetery Plot" (May 16), about the murder of Anastasia WitbolsFeugen. One was from the mother of the convicted killer, Byron Case, and another was from a friend of Case's family. I think the victim's family should now reply.

Allie Johnson approached Anastasia's family about a story as the trial began, spoke at length with us afterward and was never anything except professional. I felt she made Anastasia's killer much more human than he deserved and made the Jackson County Sheriff's Department sound almost competent, which they most assuredly were not. We still felt the story was fair and well-researched.

Johnson got the quotes from Mr. Case's Web site from Anastasia's family, as the site had been taken down several months before the trial began. We saved several pages because of the various (and occasionally bizarre) statements he made about the murder.

A jury of twelve citizens took only three and a half hours to convict [Case]. He probably would have been convicted more than three years ago had the Jackson County Sheriff's Department simply acted with average intelligence when this case was fresh.

Anastasia's family just feels fortunate that one individual with a conscience finally came forward and brought that much of our nightmare to a close.

[There was a letter in reply to ours, from Alex Strangrotz, who now styles himself "Strangerz", which was published in the very same issue. We used to wonder how Mr. Strangrotz (who is a friend of Case's) managed to read our letter and reply to it before it was even published, but we since learned that Case had and still has friends working at the Pitch Weekly who do "spy" work on his behalf.]
Case also was upset about other media coverage. "I had to shake my head when I read what the Kansas City Star wrote in one article about Kelly Moffett turning to drugs because of the horrible secret she'd kept. Moffett was doing drugs before any of this happened. She was always in trouble with her parents," Case explained. She went on to describe in vivid detail the turmoil her family has been through since the time of her only son's arrest one year ago. "I have no control. I have tried every avenue to get answers to what truly happened, " Case said.
And this statement, uncritically printed by the Spectrum, was outright slander. Evelyn Case has only her son's word to describe Kelly Moffett, and has parrotted that line without concern for proof. The Spectrum magnifies that sin by repeating it without examination.
"I feel terrible for the WitbolsFeugen family. I've burned many candles for Anastasia. But, that does not mean that I will not stand by my son. From the beginning, he's fully cooperated with the police. He spoke with the detective assigned to the case. His friends were also questioned. We did not know he was even implicated for this crime, which at the time of his arrest, was three years in the past. Byron had not been in any trouble. He was asleep in his room, sick with a sore throat the night of his surprise arrest. We never expected that," Case stated.
Evelyn Case has left a large number of rambling, angry messages on the guestbook of her son's victim's memorial website. For someone who feels "terrible for the WitbolsFeugen family", she has chosen an odd method to show it.

Byron Case did NOT "fully cooperate with the police". He refused through his lawyer to talk to them further after their questions became too direct as to his involvement. Case himself admitted in communication with Anastasia's family that he was aware early on that he was indeed a suspect; if his mother was not aware of that, then it is either because he made a concerted effort to keep his mother in the dark, or she made an effort not to know, or both.

And Evelyn Case's statement that her son "had not been in any trouble" seems unbelievable in light of the fact that he had been arrested in 1996 for burglary, and had in late 1998 pled guilty to a charge of felony stealing and accepted a suspended sentence and five years' probation. "Not in any trouble" is a relative term when one is on parole.

The room Case referred to is the same room that, years earlier, had been occupied by Byron's friends when they came to visit. If they weren't at Justin Bruton's Plaza apartment, then they were at the Case residence. Case lived with his mother and stepfather when he wasn't at Justin's place. "They'd come over here and go in his room and listen to music, talk, whatever," Case's mother said.
This is an interesting twist on the truth, possibly done to paint a more "homestyle" picture. Evelyn Case did not move into her current residence until after Justin Bruton was dead. After Case's father died in late 1997, Case moved into his father's home and lived there for close to a year before moving to and living in St. Louis for some time after that. As for the statement "Case lived with his mother and stepfather", it would be more accurately portrayed as "Case stayed with his mother and the guy with whom she was living at the time."
"Justin was so polite and would speak in German to me. I made him German treats, cookies and such. Kelly would never come out and speak with me," she recalled.
What Evelyn Case was never aware of is that her son, Byron Case, occasionally told stories to his friends about his mother and how strange she was. He did so for no apparent reason except his own twisted entertainment, and the reason that Kelly Moffett appeared so shy around Evelyn Case is because Case deliberately fed Kelly as many fictions about his mother as he did his mother about Kelly.
Case said Byron apologized to her many times for Kelly's behavior. "Kelly's mother said the psychiatrists told her that she might be a sociopath. Byron was always trying to take care of her," she remembered.
This is another outright lie and slander, and repeated uncritically. Kelly Moffett's mother made no such statement, and the Spectrum made no effort to check it. It's easier to print a lie when one works from a position of willful ignorance.
Her own comment shifted her from reminiscing into a contemplation mode again. "Why isn't anyone questioning Kelly's behavior? This thing has been so confusing from the beginning. She changes her story every time and justifies it by the amount of time that has gone by and that she was so young at the time. Everyone is so willing to implicate Byron."
Actually, Kelly's story changed only from the one that she and Case agreed upon into the one in which she saw Anastasia murdered. She panicked on at least one occasion, in fear of being charged herself with accessory or obstruction, and in that panic blamed Justin Bruton, but that was a momentary lapse. Her story was much more consistent than Case admits to, and characterizing her testimony as "changing her story every time" is simply inaccurate.
Case adds, "I guess I can't feel bad for wondering about the testimony of someone who used to call my son from crack houses asking if she could come over and take a shower. He was always so nice and helpful to her. Isn't it possible that she is trying to get the reward money to pay for her drug problem or to get even with my son? Couldn't it be possible that she needs to explain to her family the reason for all she's put them through with her drug problem?" Case wondered aloud.
One more time, the tale of Kelly "calling from crack houses" and asking if "she could come over and take a shower" was an invention of Byron Case, who made sure he always told such stories when Kelly was out of earshot (or even absent); this particular story was told during the trial, but the witness (on behalf of Case) even had to admit that when Kelly came over, she talked to Case in private but appeared clean and not in need of a shower. And as we have had to apparently explain multiple times to Case apologists in the years since the trial, Kelly neither sought nor received a penny of the reward for turning State's Evidence. It was stated multiple times during the trial of Byron Case, and even back in July 2002, Evelyn Case was well aware of that fact.
Case is weary to the bone. Her life has been turned upside down. She cannot concentrate or enjoy small pleasures such as traveling and eating in restaurants without thinking of her son sitting alone in a jail cell. She went on an extended fast to try to ensure that she was able to mentally challenge the trial.

Case spends hours of her time and money going to organizations such as the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted. An appeal has been filed for her son's sentence. "It says poor person's appeal on it," Case says with a sigh. This label means Byron Case cannot afford legal representation.

Byron Case made a personal appeal of his own to the judge at his sentencing when he politely asked for a re-trial. "Your Honor, may I please have a re-trial since you fell asleep during my first one? This is my life we are talking about," he asked Circuit Judge Charles E. Atwell, who denied his request.

The actual statement made by Byron Case is as follows:
CASE:  Thank you, Your Honor.  If for no other reason than to make it a matter of record, I would 
like to bring to the attention of the Court an issue of serious concern.

During the course of my trial, some people made my attorney, Mr. Lance, aware that they witnessed 
Your Honor repeatedly nodding off to sleep. Mr. Lance never said a word of this to me until I 
later confronted him about it.

JUDGE ATWELL: Excuse me. Who nodded off to sleep?

CASE: You did, sir.


CASE: By that point, the trial was already over, however. Then, to compound the matter, he never 
mentioned this as either an amended version of his motion for new trial or as an addendum to that 
document.  I feel this is one of the examples of my counsel's, frankly, ham-handed way of dealing 
with my defense and of what I feel is a blatant disregard for my right to fair trial.  I don't 
think it's any excuse of professional embarrassment that can possibly be acceptable when dealing 
with the issue of deciding people's lives.

The only viable resolution that I see, and I hope that you see as well, sir, is that at this point 
I think the best thing would be to overthrow the jury's verdict and declare a mistrial.
What we cannot reproduce here is Case's tone of voice, which could be described as arrogant and angry, and in no way polite, as if he fully expected immediate and absolute compliance from the Judge. Instead, Judge Atwell noted that no one but Case's friends made any such observation, and ruled it without merit. Case has never pursued this issue in any appeal, although his supporters do so on the web site (where there is no standard for burden of proof).

Had the Spectrum reporter interviewed a member of Anastasia's family, her description of Case's plea would have been directly challenged and rebutted.

After his sentence was pronounced, Case's mother broke down in sobs and tried to reach for her son. Sheriffs held her back while Case, white and shaking, was taken away.

In gesture of empathy, Robert WitbolsFeugen, the victim's father, put his hand on Case's shoulder and tried to comfort her afterward, to no avail.

Presently, Case cannot be comforted. Her son has been moved to Western Reception Diagnostic Center in St. Joseph, Missouri where it will be decided in which prison he will serve his sentence.

"I heard that Mr. WitbolsFeugen has been contacted by 48 Hours. I hope they do come out and investigate. If anyone puts any effort into this investigation, they will see my son is not guilty of Anastasia's murder," Case said.

Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty. A first-degree conviction carries an automatic sentence of life without parole, if execution is not sought. Case's supporters at the trial included about a dozen friends and relatives along with his paternal grandparents, and mother.

Evelyn Case will support her son's appeal.

She described her son's reaction when she told him she would get a second mortgage on her house if necessary, "He said, 'No! I can't let you do that, mom!'" Case declared, adding, "He is always worried about me in this. He is an angel to me. I raised my son right. I know I did."

Evelyn Case's "normal" life has disappeared. She is consumed with activity surrounding her son's appeal. "More and more people are coming into the picture. I am not the only one who believes in Byron's innocence whether the media paints it that way or not."

Evelyn Case says she will not give up the fight to prove her son's innocence "Byron feels totally defeated and I tell him we will not give up," she says. "He just feels like he is totally forgotten. He is so lonely and frightened and I am so frustrated. There has to be something that I can do for him," said Case. One wonders how a mother ever copes with a situation like this.

"Some people go to counselors, psychiatrists, and therapists. I go to my friends." Case said.

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