Archive for Thursday, August 16, 2001

Trial ordered in Franklin Co. death

Ottawan faces second-degree murder charge in Lawrence resident’s death

August 16, 2001

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— A police officer says John Powell drove to his brother's house the night of June 8 with three bottles of Evan Williams whiskey and a goal: When the whiskey was gone or the sun was up, whichever came first, he would help get Barney Riley and Lisa Barnett off his brother's property.

Three days later, Riley, 39, Lawrence, was found dead by children bicycling in rural Franklin County. Prosecutors say Powell, of Overbrook, is responsible.

At a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Franklin County District Court, Judge Ed Smith rejected the prosecution's request for a first-degree murder charge and ordered Powell to stand trial on a second-degree count. The trial is set to begin Aug. 27.

A Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent said the events leading to Riley's murder began May 31, when Riley and Barnett came to visit John Powell's brother, Mike Powell, who was home with his girlfriend.

Barnett, who took the witness stand Wednesday, said a drinking binge ensued when she and Riley arrived.

May 31 through June 8, the foursome drank "every day," Barnett said.

"I drank three six-packs a day," she said.

Barnett also said she had a 4-year-old daughter with Mike Powell, but had not been romantically involved with him since their daughter's birth. Barnett had known Riley for about two years, she said, and was romantically involved with him from June 3 to June 8.

About 10 p.m. on June 8, Mike Powell's girlfriend called John Powell to ask for his help in ending the drinking binge, specifically by removing Barnett and Riley, said Jeffrey Hupp, a KBI special agent who interviewed John Powell and testified at the hearing. John Powell, Hupp said, was familiar with everyone at his brother's house.

John Powell, wearing an orange prison jump suit, didn't speak at the hearing.

Hupp said John Powell told him during an interview in early June that he fought with Riley the night of June 8 or early June 9. But after hitting Riley, and knocking him against a pickup, Riley fell asleep. Powell told Hupp he then left with Barnett for a few hours. When they returned about 5 a.m., they woke Riley. But Riley passed out again and was moved to the bed of John Powell's truck, who then drove around with him for a few hours before leaving him in a field to sober up.

"He said he 'dropped Barney off like a stray pup,'" Hupp said.

John Powell told Hupp that Barnett repeatedly fought with Riley, including hitting him and striking him with the door of a washing machine. That's why Powell left him in a field, to separate him from Barnett.

But when Barnett took the stand, she said John Powell had struck Riley with a baseball bat early June 9, killing him immediately.

Defense attorney Bob Kuchar attacked Barnett's credibility, saying she didn't mention the alleged baseball-bat assault in earlier talks with investigators.

Barnett said she didn't tell the whole story for investigators because she feared for her life.

"I just didn't write down the whole story on that day because I was too tired of writing," she said. "I thought it would go through the grapevine and then I'd be dead."

Barnett also said her use of prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills made it hard to remember everything during the various interviews.

"That was because I was heavily sedated and they kept coming at me from different sides," she said of the investigators.

Mike Powell and his girlfriend did not testify at the preliminary hearing.

Staff writer Matt Merkel-Hess can be reached at 832-7187.

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