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Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2002

Witness accounts differ in trial

February 21, 2002

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— On the morning of June 13, 2001, Franklin County Sheriff Craig Davis received a phone call from a man who wanted to talk about a body found near Centropolis.

"He said he wanted to talk to me about what happened to Barney Riley," Davis told a Franklin County jury Wednesday.

The man who made the phone call, John Powell, 45, Overbrook, is now charged with second-degree murder in Riley's death and is being tried this week in Franklin County District Court.

Riley's body was found June 11 by children in a field near an abandoned house in the 1600 block of Shawnee Road in northwest Franklin County. Franklin County coroner Erik Mitchell said an autopsy report attributed Powell's death to having been hit on the head with a blunt object.

Franklin County Atty. John Dowell is trying to convince a jury that Riley, 39, Lawrence, was struck twice in the head with a baseball bat swung by Powell. The incident occurred early on June 9 while Riley was at the home of Powell's brother, Mike Powell, near Centropolis. John Powell then loaded Riley's body into the back of a pickup truck and dumped it in a field, Dowell said.

Davis said he and a detective drove to John Powell's home near Overbrook after getting Powell's phone call. Powell maintained he slapped Riley on the side of the head with a closed fist, Davis testified. Powell said he thought Riley was still alive and snoring when he drove him to a field and left him, Davis said.

"He (John Powell) told me a couple of times during the conversation that he took Barney out and dumped him like a stray dog," Davis said.

John Powell's attorney, Robert Kuchar, said Powell was going to drive Riley to Lawrence but ended up dropping him off under a shade tree with a lighter and a cigarette. Riley was unconscious or sleeping at the time after several days of drinking, Kuchar said.

Kansas Bureau of Investigation Agent Jeff Hupp said John Powell gave him another version of what had happened.

John Powell said Riley was beaten by his girlfriend, Lisa Burnett, Topeka, who also was drunk, Hupp testified. Powell told him Burnett hit Riley with a door from a washer or dryer.

Both Dowell and Kuchar could give their closing arguments to the six-man, six-woman jury today, and deliberations would begin.

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