BLUE SPRINGS, MO (KCTV) -- On Feb. 12, 1990, Kathy Middleton was shot and killed inside her Blue Springs home in the middle of the day.
There were only two people inside that home when the shot was fired.
Her husband, Ken Middleton, told police he had brought a gun inside from his truck and left it in his lap. He planned to clean it.
His version of events is that his wife picked up the gun and went to the phone to call the doctor.
“And then I got up to go to the kitchen to get a drink of water and I blacked out. And I can’t even remember the gun going off,” Ken Middleton said.
“That’s all a blank?” KCTV5 investigative reporter Angie Ricono questioned.
“That’s all a blank,” Ken Middleton responded.
“When I come to, she had dropped the gun or whatever happened in the dining room. And I seen her and I just went crazy,” Ken Middleton said.
Police didn’t buy it and the case went to court.
Prosecutors called it a “simple case” and told the jury that Ken Middleton pinned his wife to the wall and shot and killed her at close range. Detectives testified how strange Middleton acted at the scene and the shooting was not an accident.
Ken Middleton was convicted. He was sentenced to life plus 200 years. But, things aren’t always what they seem.
Private investigators and experts have a very different theory about what happened that day.
“It was one of the first cases where I felt like the defendant was totally innocent of any charges he had,” forensic investigator Robert Tressell said.
Tressel was hired after trial. He traced the trajectory of the bullet. He says that information changes everything.
“There is no doubt in my mind that either the weapon hit the dining room table in some fashion to make it go off…or as she was holding the weapon she somehow forcibly pulled the trigger,” Tressell said.
Tressell says his theory is backed up by other evidence at the scene. He points out there was no blood or gunpower resident found on Ken Middleton’s hands or clothes, which he advises is expected in a close-range shooting. And that’s the theory that went to court.
Experts point out this is the first homicide the Blue Springs Police Department had worked in nine years. They say it showed.
“I’ve never seen anything so poorly prepared by a police department,” private investigator Chuck Gay said.
Gay was in charge of major crimes in Los Angeles for almost a decade. He also worked for the Department of Defense. He reviewed the entire case file and told KCTV5’s investigative unit there are so many problems with the case.
He suspects tunnel-vision and a case of “make it work” investigation.
“Everything that was done was done in properly. The entire crime scene was handled improperly,” Gay said.
Gay is disturbed that the gun was moved multiple times and that the gun was taken apart before testing.
“That’s totally improper. A gun can be put together differently each time,” Gay said.
He troubled that Kathy Middleton’s body was undressed at the scene.
“By taking clothing off, you destroy gun residue. You’re mixing blood with rest of material,” Gay said.
Police openly admit they had major problems with something as simple as the crime scene photos.
The prosecutor told the jury what police said:
“…the flash attachment apparently wasn’t in sync and we have no photographs. Well, by this time the body’s been transported, all the furniture has been moved.”
“They restaged the crime scene. You cannot restage the crime scene,” Gay said.
Crime scene photos that went to court show drywall has been cut out of the wall and the dining room table is missing.
Gunpowder residue tests questioned
The gun powder residue tests from this shooting bother investigators the most. They consider it the “smoking gun” in the case.
Tests reveal detectives tested both of Ken Middleton’s hands. The did not find gun shot residue. They also tested Kathy’s hands, but her test now has white out on the lab report showing that document has been changed.
Gay says when he questioned that document, a crime lab worker admitted white out was not standard procedure.
“They use green out because it’s green paper,” Gay said.
“What does that tell you if it’s white instead of green out?” questioned KCTV5’s investigative reporter.
“He told me someone from the police department checked it out and altered it. Should never have been done,” Gay said.
Gay says if you hold that document up to the light, you see that there were two hands tested but only one hand remains in the file.
Both experts feel that is significant because results from Kathy Middleton’s left hand do not exist and they suspect she dropped the gun with her left hand.
“Why the test shows whiteout on the paperwork has never been answered by anyone,” Tressell said.
“I believe she dropped the gun. I still believe he is an innocent man sitting in prison, I really do,” Gay said.
Defense attorney criticized
Ken Middleton’s current defense attorney calls his case a “perfect storm” that includes ineffective council.
Ken Middleton was first represented by Robert Duncan, who is now deceased.
Before Duncan’s death, he provided an affidavit describing what little work he did.
A combination of court records and that affidavit release that Duncan failed to take statements and never called any witnesses during trial.
Duncan admits he didn’t have any physical evidence examined including the gun. And the court records show he didn’t even make an opening statement.
Hope and then nothing
Middleton has had hope.
“In 2004, they offered me an Alford plea to walk out the door,” Ken Middleton said.
He wouldn’t take the deal. An Alford plea means he would have to plead guilty but he could still maintain his innocence. In essence, he’d be admitting police and prosecutors had a strong case and did nothing wrong.
“They know I’m innocent,” Ken Middleton said.
He says he couldn’t cut a deal where he admitted on any level it looked like he killed his wife.
“Well, if it was somebody else they said I murdered… but who they were saying I murdered. I just couldn’t do it,” he said.
“Do you regret it? you are still here," questioned Ricono.
“Hindsight is 20/20 I guess,” Ken Middleton said.
The plea deal came at the same time a judge was reviewing the case. She eventually granted Ken Middleton a new trial. But then a higher court said the judge didn’t have the right to make that ruling. So legally, the case just ended and the deal went away.
More than a decade has rolled by and Ken Middleton remains in prison.
Confession but not murder
KCTV5 spent months reviewing the old case.
The investigative team spoke to people who knew Ken and Kathy Middleton at the time of the shooting and questioned the police narrative and the story Ken Middleton related.
Research revealed there was much more to the story and the team confronted Ken Middleton.
“Okay then what I told you there isn’t what happened,” he said.
“Tell me what really happened that day,” Ricono said.
“Well, I went to sleep in that recliner chair. I had that gun laying in my lap. I was aiming to clean it. Well she was upset, she had found out about me and (***). She was highly agitated and when she picked up the gun accusing me and (***) of having an affair or whatever you want to call it,” Ken Middleton said.
KCTV5 is not revealing the woman’s name but Middleton admits it was the affair was with someone near and dear to Kathy and she was shattered.
“Naturally when she was asking… and I denied it all she said, she was getting the phone and getting me on the phone and she’s calling (***),” Middleton said.
“So she’s mad. She comes home and she picks up the gun. So, what do you think happened that day with the gun?” questioned Ricono.
“Well, I thought she dropped it. No way I thought it was self-inflicted. I thought she dropped it on the table or on the chair. But after I got the police reports the next summer and saw the gun shot residue tests ... whiting out the left hand. I knew right then like I told you before, I was being framed,” Ken Middleton said.
Fight for freedom
Ken Middleton remains in prison.
There’s a good chance he will die there. His legal options can best be described as extreme long shots.
He recently petitioned the United States Supreme Court. That was denied. He’s also petitioning the Jackson County Prosecutor to reopen the case in the interest of justice.
A spokesperson with the prosecutor’s office says they are considering if they will formally review Ken Middleton’s case.
Blue Springs police did not respond to KCTV5's request for comment regarding what experts said about the case.