Convicted Barry County killer's execution date set
Missouri moves execution start time to 6 p.m.
A Barry County man who has been on death row for 17 years is set to be executed on March 17.
Cecil Clayton, 74, formerly of Purdy, is the oldest inmate on death row and was sentenced to death in 1997 for the killing of Barry County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Castetter, a 29-year-old father of three.
Clayton became the state's oldest death row inmate after the death of Kenneth Baumruk, who died of natural causes.
Clayton has been behind bars since his arrest on the night of Nov. 27, 1996. He was apprehended at his residence in Purdy about 45 minutes after Castetter was shot in his patrol car.
The shooting occurred in the driveway of the Seal home on Farm Road 2205, south of Cassville. According to court records, Castetter arrived at the Seal residence at 10:03 p.m. in response to a suspicious vehicle call made by Carolyn Leonard, the Seals' daughter.
Three minutes after Castetter called for back-up, Barry County Deputy David Bowman arrived at the scene and found Castetter inside his vehicle still alive, but with a lone gunshot wound to the head. The patrol car was lodged up against a tree with its motor running and rear wheels spinning.
Castetter later died at 1:08 a.m. at Cox South Hospital in Springfield after being air-lifted from the scene. According to the autopsy report, Castetter died from the single gunshot wound.
During the investigation, law enforcement officers discovered that Clayton had argued with his girlfriend, Martha Ball, one of the Seals' daughters, at 8 p.m. on the night of the shooting. Ball said she met Clayton at a Purdy convenience store to break off their relationship.
The prosecution theorized that the break-up prompted Clayton to take a loaded gun to the Seal residence, and Castetter's arrival on the scene was an unexpected development.
"Castetter was a uniform that got in Clayton's way," said Assistant Attorney General Bob Ahsens during his closing argument.
Clayton's trial was held in the Jasper County Courthouse in Joplin on a change of venue from Barry County, with Judge David Darnold presiding. Clayton was represented by Neosho defense attorney Ross Rhoads. The case was prosecuted by Barry County Prosecutor David Cole and Ahsens.
The trial lasted six days, and the jury of three women and nine men were sequestered during its duration.
Rhoads hinged his defense on the theory that Clayton lacked the mental capacity to understand his actions on the night of Nov. 27, 1996, because he was missing a portion of his brain. Neuro-psychologists testified that Clayton lost approximately 8 percent of his brain in a sawmill accident in 1972, which left him a changed man.
The prosecution presented physical evidence linking Clayton to the crime scene, including a piece of molded plastic that was found at the base of the tree where Castetter's car was found. The plastic fit perfectly into a broken rear tail light assembly discovered on Clayton's pickup. Paint samples taken from Clayton's pickup also matched paint transfers found on Castetter's patrol car.
In addition, officers were able to retrieve a 38-caliber revolver from outside Clayton's residence in Purdy on the night of his arrest. The weapon contained one expended bullet cartridge and four live rounds of ammunition.
Several witnesses also testified to seeing a vehicle matching the description of Clayton's at the crime scene. A friend of Clayton's and two of Clayton's cell mates at the Barry County Jail testified that Clayton confessed to them that he shot Castetter.
The jury took two hours to return a verdict of guilty.
The sentencing phase of the trial, which included victim testimony, lasted one day, and jury members took two hours and 20 minutes before recommending that Clayton be put to death by lethal injection.
Castetter's widow, Christine, wept quietly, clutching a framed photo of her husband, as she listened to the jury's recommendation of death.