John Henry Horton had the motive, means and opportunity to kill 13-year-old Lizabeth Wilson more than 30 years ago, Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline told a jury this morning.
Defense attorny Michael McCulloch, however, told jurors that there there is no physical or DNA evidence tying Horton to the Prairie Village girl. And he said the two prison inmates who will testify that Horton confessed to them have “prison-sized” reasons to lie.
The attorneys presented their opening statements today in the first-degree murder trial of Horton — his second trial in the case.
The 60-year-old defendant is accused of luring Liz into Shawnee Mission East High School on July 7, 1974, where he was working as a custodian, with the intent to sexually molest her. Prosecutors contend Horton gave Liz chloroform to subdue her and killed her with an overdose.
Her remains were found six months later in a Lenexa field.
Kline recounted the story of how Liz was walking home from the Prairie Village swimming pool when she disappeared about 7:20 p.m.
He told the jury they would hear testimony of how Horton, just minutes earlier, had asked an adolescent girl to stand on his shoulders so he could turn off a water spigot outside the school. There was no water spigot that high, Kline said.
Kline also said the jury would hear that investigators found chloroform in Horton’s car the day after Liz disappeared and that he had used chloroform earlier that summer to subdue another adolescent girl he molested on a golf course.
Two prison inmates also will testify that Horton confessed to them, he said.
McCulloch said the state would not be able to prove that Horton was involed in any way. All prosecutors can prove, McCulloch said, was that Liz was last seen standing alone in a parking lot near Shawnee Mission East High School and that her remains were found six months later.
Horton was long a suspect in Liz’s death but was arrested only after the cold case was reopened in 2002. He was convicted of murdering Liz in 2004 but the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2007.
The justices ruled that the district court erred by allowing the testimony of the adolescent, now a woman, about the alleged golf course attack. The court said that prior bad act should not have been allowed because it was not similar enough to what happened to Liz.
Posted on: February 27, 2008, 12:11:52 PM
John Wilson testified Tuesday about the devastation he and his family suffered after his sister Lizabeth disappeared on July 7, 1974.
“It was so dismal in that house,” said Wilson, who was 11 then and is now 44. “There are no words” to describe it.
Wilson, who was with 13-year-old Liz minutes before she vanished, took the witness stand during the first day of testimony in the first-degree murder trial of John Henry Horton. Also testifying were others who saw Liz that day around the time she was walking home from the Prairie Village swimming pool.
Horton, 60, is accused of luring or forcing Liz into Shawnee Mission East High School, where he was working as a custodian, with the intent to sexually molest her. Prosecutors contend Horton gave Liz chloroform to subdue her and killed her with an overdose.
Horton was convicted of first-degree murder in the case in 2004, but the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2007.
District Attorney Phill Kline refiled the charges. New at this trial will be two Kansas inmates who are expected to testify that Horton confessed to them.
John Wilson testified that he and Liz were supposed to walk to and from the pool together. But on that day, he said, he had upset Liz at the pool. He said he was running ahead of her to their home so he could tell their parents his side of the story first.
Others who testified said they saw Liz leave the pool around 7:15 or 7:20. By 9 p.m., when there was no sign of Liz at home, Wilson said, “it was getting really, really scary.”
Six months later, the girl’s remains were found in a Lenexa field.
Beth Reichmeier, who was 15 on the day Liz disappeared, testified that she had played tennis near the pool and crossed the parking lot between the pool and the high school about 7:20 p.m. While doing so, she said, she encountered a man in a blue work shirt who asked her to stand on his shoulders and turn off a water spigot outside the school.
Reichmeier said she found the man’s behavior very odd.
In opening statements early Tuesday, Kline told the Johnson County grand jury that Horton had the motive, means and opportunity to kill Liz.
Defense attorney Michael McCulloch, however, told jurors that there is no physical or DNA evidence tying Horton to Liz. And he said the two prison inmates who will testify that Horton confessed to them have “prison-sized” reasons to lie.
Horton was arrested only after the cold case was reopened in 2001.
Posted on: February 28, 2008, 09:25:39 AM
Two Kansas inmates testified Friday that John Henry Horton told them he had molested a girl long ago and killed her by putting a chloroform-soaked rag over her face.
One of the inmates, Danny Barnhouse, said Horton told him that the Prairie Village girl’s death was “a terrible accident that couldn’t be avoided.”
The other, Sergio Castillo-Contreras, said Horton told him he killed 13-year-old Lizabeth Wilson because “she tried to fight him.”
The two are key witnesses in Horton’s second murder trial, which got under way Monday in Johnson County District Court. They came forward after the Kansas Supreme Court overturned Horton’s 2004 conviction in the 1974 case. The trial is expected to continue next week.
Also taking the witness stand Friday was a woman who testified that Horton had forced her to sniff chloroform and then sexually molested her on a golf course several weeks before he allegedly killed Liz. That woman, who was 14 at the time, tearfully told the jury that she had kept the incident a secret until authorities reopened the cold case and came to her door.
The Kansas Supreme Court justices ruled that the woman’s testimony should not have been allowed at the first trial because what happened to her was not similar enough to what happened to Liz. But prosecutors hope the addition of the inmates’ testimony will lay the legal foundation for the woman’s testimony and satisfy the justices this time around.
Horton, now 60, is charged with first-degree murder or felony murder in the July 7, 1974, abduction and death of Liz. The teen vanished that night while walking home from the Prairie Village swimming pool. The last to see her was her younger brother John, who was running home ahead of her.
District Attorney Phill Kline, who is prosecuting the case with Deputy District Attorney Stephen Maxwell, alleges that Horton lured or forced Liz into Shawnee Mission East High School, where he was working, to sexually assault her. Prosecutors contend he subdued her with chloroform and accidentally killed her.
Barnhouse and Castillo-Contreras testified that they met Horton at the Norton Correctional Facility, where the three were being held. They said he talked about the killing to them in separate incidents.
Barnhouse testified that Horton told him he lured Liz to him and subdued her with chloroform. She regained consciousness and started fighting him while he was molesting her, so Horton said he put the rag to her face again, Barnhouse said. That time, she stopped moving, Barnhouse said he was told.
Castillo-Contreras’s account was much the same. He said Horton told him that he had messed up by failing to bury Liz’s body. He would have buried her, he allegedly said, but he didn’t have time. Her remains were found in January 1975 at a field in Lenexa.
The inmates testified that they were not promised anything from authorities in return for their testimony. But defense attorney Michael McCulloch questioned those assertions.
McCulloch pointed to a letter that Barnhouse sent to Kline shortly after the Kansas Supreme Court reversed Horton’s conviction in February 2007. In it, Barnhouse wrote that he would be willing to testify if he could be moved to a prison outside Kansas or if he could have his probation reinstated.
Neither of those requests has been honored, but Barnhouse did testify that he has been moved to a dormitory-like setting at the Labette Correctional Conservation Camp in Oswego, Kan.
Castillo-Contreras testified that he had asked for the district attorney’s office to send a letter of recommendation about him to the Colorado Parole Board. He was never promised that officials would do it, he testified, but the letter has been sent.
Barnhouse has been convicted of burglary, aggravated burglary and five thefts. Castillo-Contreras has been convicted of aggravated robbery twice, of making a false writing and of theft.
John Henry Horton’s niece testified today that she cannot recall an incident in which her uncle gave chloroform to a friend on a golf course in Independence.
Cindy Owens, who appeared in jail clothes and needed help getting from a wheelchair to the witness stand, testified at Horton’s first murder trial in 2004 that her uncle took a bottle of chloroform to the golf course in 1974. But Owens said today in Johnson County District Court that she did not remember testifying to that and did not recall the incident itself.
Horton, 60, is charged with first-degree murder in the 1974 abduction and death of 13-year-old Lizabeth Wilson on Prairie Village.
Prosecutors alleged he lured or forced her into Shawnee Mission East High School to molest her. They contend he used chloroform to subdue and killed her with an overdose. Her remains were found six months later in a field in Lenexa.
Authorities suspected Horton from the start but thought they did not have enough evidence to charge him until after they reopened the case in 2001 and learned about the alleged incident on the golf course.
Authorities said Owens led them to her friend on the golf course and that her friend told them Horton had forced her to sniff chloroform and then molested her. That was the break they had been waiting for.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the woman’s testimony should not have been allowed because what happened to her was not similar enough to what happened to Liz. The justices overturned the conviction; District Attorney Phill Kline refiled the charges.
At this trial, which began a week ago, prosecutors brought in new testimony from two inmates who said Horton told them he had killed Liz. The woman from the golf course also has testified at this trial.
Under questioning from Kline, Owens said she had never told authorities that her uncle had ever brought chloroform to the golf course. When asked if her uncle ever encouraged her to sniff chloroform she said she remembered a dark “good-sized bottle” but she was not sure what was in it.
“Did you ever know him to possess chloroform?” Kline asked.
“I was just told they found some in the trunk of his car,” she replied.
Under questioning from defense attorney Michael McCulloch, Owens said she was in jail clothes because prosecutors said she failed to answer a summons to testify. She said she never got the summons.
Owens testified she has been in the hospital in recent days because she suffers from seizures and had pneumonia. When McCulloch asked if she has epilepsy and if that affects her memory, she said she does have it and it does affect her memory.
The prosecution rested its case this morning.
Posted on: March 04, 2008, 11:17:00 AM
John Henry Horton’s wife testified Monday that when her husband ran from police when he was arrested several years ago it was not because he was guilty.
“He panicked,” Sharen Horton told a Johnson County District Court jury. She explained that she and her husband had decided earlier that he should surrender.
Authorities who had talked with Horton months earlier had told them they would be back to arrest Horton, Sharen Horton said, but did not tell them when.
Horton, 60, is charged with first-degree murder in the 1974 abduction and death of 13-year-old Lizabeth Wilson of Prairie Village.
This is his second trial; his 2004 conviction was overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court.
Prosecutors allege Horton lured or forced Liz into Shawnee Mission East High School to molest her.
They contend he used chloroform to subdue her and killed her with an overdose.
Her remains were found six months later in a field in Lenexa.
The trial got under way Feb. 25.
The state rested Monday, and the defense began presenting its case.
Closing arguments are expected today.
Under questioning from defense attorney Michael McCulloch, Sharen Horton said she stands by her husband but would never lie to protect him.
The defense also presented testimony from two inmates who served time at the Norton Correctional Facility with Horton and with two inmates who earlier testified for the prosecution.
The two inmates testifying for the prosecution had said that Horton told them he had killed the girl. But the inmates the defense called Monday questioned the honesty of those called by the state.
Earlier Monday, Horton’s niece testified that she could not recall an incident in which her uncle gave chloroform to a friend on a golf course in Independence.
Cindy Owens testified at Horton’s first murder trial in 2004 that her uncle took a bottle of chloroform to the golf course in 1974. But Owens said Monday that she did not remember testifying to that and did not recall the incident itself.
When questioned by McCulloch, Owens said she has epilepsy and that it affects her memory.
OLATHE, Kan. -- The fate of the 60-year-old man accused in a decades-old murder case is now in the hands of a Johnson County jury.
John Henry Horton is accused of killing Lizabeth Wilson, 13, of Prairie Village. Horton was a custodian at Shawnee Mission East High School when Wilson vanished in July 1974. She was last seen walking home from a swimming pool. Her remains were found six months later in a field.
Prosecutors said the evidence shows that Horton abducted Wilson to molest her and used chloroform to subdue Wilson, but he overdid it and she was killed.
Prosecutors also said Horton confessed to two inmates.
Defense attorneys said the case is full of speculation.
The jury got the case Tuesday afternoon. Jurors went home Tuesday evening and will resume deliberations on Wednesday morning.
This is Horton's second murder trial. His previous conviction was struck down by the Kansas Supreme Court.
Posted on: March 05, 2008, 11:08:57 AM
For the family of Lizabeth Wilson, two murder trials were enough.
But even as they appreciated the second guilty verdict delivered Wednesday, they had to admit being a bit worried about the possibility of a third trial.
“It’s a happy day for us,” said Pat Stahl, Lizabeth’s aunt, who has suffered the loss of her niece since the 13-year-old Prairie Village girl was found dead in 1974. “I hope we don’t have to go through it again.”
On Wednesday, a Johnson County jury again found John Henry Horton guilty of first-degree felony murder, a charge available in 1974 that did not require premeditation.
By convicting Horton of felony murder, the jury said it believed Horton killed Lizabeth during the commission of another crime. In this case, that crime was kidnapping, the jurors said, and the kidnapping took place so Horton could commit indecent liberties with a child.
Horton’s 2004 conviction in the case was overturned a year ago by the Kansas Supreme Court. After Wednesday’s verdict, public defenders Michael McCulloch and Carol Cline said they would appeal.
Lizabeth disappeared July 7, 1974, while walking home from the Prairie Village swimming pool near 75th Street and Mission Road. Her remains were found six months later in a field in Lenexa off Interstate 35.
Prosecutors Phill Kline and Stephen Maxwell contended that Horton lured or forced Lizabeth into Shawnee Mission East High School about 7:20 p.m. to molest her. They alleged that Horton, then a custodian at the school, subdued her with chloroform and killed her with an overdose.
Horton, now 60, faces life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years. District Judge James Franklin Davis scheduled post-trial motions for May 27. A sentencing date was not set.
At a news conference, Kline said the family’s love for Lizabeth shined through in their willingness to go through a second trial. Kline said John Wilson, who ran home ahead of his big sister that day when they had been told to walk together, has carried an especially heavy burden.
John Wilson said he wanted to thank law enforcement authorities for their perseverance and everyone for their support and prayers.
Lizabeth was the oldest of four children. John Wilson was 11, Alex was 5 and Joe was about 1 year old when she disappeared. All of the brothers attended at least some of the trial, along with numerous friends and relatives.
Lizabeth’s parents, Al and Kay Wilson, were unable to attend because Kay Wilson was ill.
Horton’s wife, Sharen, was in the courtroom after she testified this week but was not present for the verdict. Horton’s sister also attended part of the trial. Neither could be reached after the verdict, and defense attorneys declined to comment.
In overturning Horton’s 2004 conviction, the Kansas Supreme Court said the district court erred in allowing the testimony of a woman who alleged that Horton had forced her to sniff chloroform and molested her on a golf course in Independence several weeks before Lizabeth vanished.
The court ruled that the jury should not have heard about the “prior bad act” because what happened to that woman was not similar enough to what happened to Lizabeth.
That woman testified again this time. But in this trial, prosecutors believe they laid the foundation for her testimony by adding testimony from two inmates who had served time with Horton. The inmates testified that Horton had told them he had molested Lizabeth and accidentally killed her with chloroform.
McCulloch and Cline questioned the credibility of the inmates and of the woman on the golf course.
One of the inmates requested and received a positive letter from the Johnson County district attorney’s office to the Colorado Parole Board. That inmate acknowledged on the witness stand that he has testified against three other inmates. The other inmate, who asked to be moved to a prison in Missouri or to be reinstated on probation, has been moved to a dormitory-like prison setting in Kansas.
The defense pointed out that the state had no physical evidence tying Horton to Lizabeth. They contended the state’s theory of what happened to her was one of many potential scenarios. Perhaps Lizabeth returned to the pool and was grabbed by someone there, they said.
Witnesses for the state, however, said Horton had tried to lure them into the school that day shortly before Lizabeth disappeared. Authorities found partly used bottles of chloroform in Horton’s car the next day, along with a knife and other items Horton admitted taking from the school.
In the first trial, the jury deliberated about two hours. This time, jurors were out for about 10 hours over two days. One juror said the debate in the jury room was “pretty intense.” The division was over which crime Horton should be convicted of, the juror said. The judge also had given them the options of first-degree premeditated murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
When asked whether any juror argued to find Horton not guilty, the juror replied: “No one ever thought that at any point.”