Man pleads to murder but says he is innocent

Jeffrey Barton

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by RAD BERKY / NewsChannel 36
E-mail Rad: RBerky@WCNC.com

Bio | Email | Follow: @RadBerkywcnc

WCNC.com

Posted on February 19, 2010 at 6:58 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 19 at 8:23 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Fourteen years after a young woman was murdered in Charlotte, there are questions about whether the right man is behind bars.

"I don't believe he was involved in it," says Megan Stone, referring to her father Jeffrey Barton, who is now serving an eight to 14 year prison sentence for the murder of Rachel Dietrich, 20, in Charlotte in 1995.

Dietrich vanished from her post as a security guard at a Duke Energy facility in north Charlotte in October of that year.

Her body was later found near a church about a mile away. Her skull had been fractured and there was evidence she was strangled.

Dietrich had moved to Charlotte about a month before she was killed, and there was a connection to Jeffrey Barton. He had been a supervisor on her previous job, and according to investigators, had tried unsuccessfully to start a romantic relationship with her.

For 10 long years the case languished, unsolved. There were no witnesses and little physical evidence.

But with the advent of DNA, there was a break in the case. A sample of DNA from under Dietrich's fingernail was said to be consist ant with Jeffrey Barton, and in 2005 he was arrested.

Barton sat in jail for four years until last November when he entered an Alford Plea. It allowed him to plead but not admit guilt. In return, he was sentenced to a minimum of eight and a maximum of 14 years behind bars.

But to this day, Barton and his family maintain that he didn't kill Rachel Dietrich.

"They offered him plea that he was guaranteed pretty much in eight years he could go home to his family that he had been kept away from for four years already," said Stone.

Barton himself said he took the plea because, "I could not trust my life in the hands of a misinformed jury. This is why I felt I had no other choice than to accept an Alford Plea that allowed me to maintain my innocence."

"I know he did not do this," said Barton's sister, Wende Conrad.

At issue for Barton and the family is that DNA evidence. The indication from investigators was that it was a match.

"But the probability of how much of a match is what needs to be looked at," said Conrad.

Barton's daughter says she had seen the DNA report and it is far from conclusive.

"To me, those results say it was more of a chance that it was a Hispanic more than a Caucasian male," Stone said.

And there was the issue of some hair found under Dietrich's security bracelet that she was wearing when she was killed.

"When they tested the hair it was inconsistent with my dad," Stone said.

In preparing Barton's defense, his attorneys wanted the audio and video tapes of the interviews police did with Barton.

"When the attorneys went back to look for them, they had lost both of them," Stone said.

NewsChannel 36 wanted to ask the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office about the Barton case, but a request for an interview went unanswered.

The mother of Rachel Dietrich, who lives in Pennsylvania, said that what troubles her is that the man who is supposed to be the killer of her daughter will serve so little time.

"So what real justice, in a way, is there in the system?" asked Deborah Dietrich.

"You know, if they really thought he did this horrible crime, would they let someone like that go in eight years?" echoed Conrad.

The Barton family is not asking for a new trial since there never was a trial in the first place. They just want it known that Barton took a plea so could one day come home and not risk spending his life behind bars for something he says he didn't do.

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