The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

April 15, 2010

Accused ringleader in ‘wrong Muller’ case bound over for trial

NEVADA, Mo. — The suspected ringleader behind a home invasion in Missouri and the kidnapping of a pet store owner in New Jersey has been ordered to stand trial on 11 felony counts related to the home invasion and a cache of weapons he allegedly tried to hide from lawmen.

William “Billy” Barger, 48, listened as his girlfriend haltingly testified against him Thursday during his preliminary hearing in Vernon County Circuit Court.

The girlfriend, Kim Hunter, was called as a witness by Lynn Ewing, the Vernon County prosecutor, in an effort to tie the defendant to a cache of weapons seized by authorities during a January search of two homes in Nevada.

A Bates County Sheriff’s Department member of the local Community Narcotics Enforcement Team testified as to search warrants served at a home on Maple Street in Nevada, where Hunter, Barger and Douglas Stangeland all lived, and a home on Hickory Street, where Hunter’s sister, Tina Morris, lived.

The officer testified that while the search of the Maple Street home did not turn up much in the way of weapons or narcotics, investigators learned from Hunter that Barger may have had Morris move some guns of his to her home. A consent search of that home turned up numerous weapons in an upstairs closet, the officer testified. He read off a list of the weapons and other items seized.

17 guns seized

A probable-cause affidavit states that 17 guns were confiscated, including a sawed-off shotgun.

Hunter told the court that she has known Barger for just 10 months. But she appeared reluctant to testify against him and concerned about the possibility of incriminating her sister on the witness stand, even though neither of the women has been charged with any offense.

Hunter initially responded that she was pleading the Fifth Amendment when she was asked if her sister had been at her house the morning of the day the guns are believed to have been moved to the sister’s home.

Under further questioning by Ewing, she eventually said: “I know my sister took them there, yeah.”

“Do you know why your sister took the guns?” the prosecutor asked.

“No,” she said.

When public defender Jeff Martin asked her almost the same question on cross-examination a minute later, she responded once again that she wished to invoke the Fifth Amendment. Associate Circuit Judge Neal Quitno instructed her that the amendment does not apply to testimony that might implicate someone else in a crime.

She then told the court: “Billy told her to take them.”

Thursday’s proceedings were a continuation of a preliminary hearing March 25 at which Charles Scammell and various officers testified with respect to the burglary, kidnapping, assault and armed criminal action charges against the defendant.

Barger is accused of ordering three men to commit the home invasion as part of an effort to locate a man named Jeffrey Muller and recover $400,000 that purportedly was lost on a construction project in Utah by a fifth co-defendant, Roy Slates, 55, of Nevada.

Authorities say Barger claimed to be the son of Sonny Barger, the infamous co-founder of the Hell’s Angels. That claim is in dispute, but authorities say he was recruiting Stangeland, 46, of Nevada, and Lonnie Swarnes, 44, and Andrew Wadel, 21, both of Rich Hill, for a new motorcycle gang. As part of a scheme to recover Slates’ lost funds and be paid a percentage in reward, Barger allegedly ordered Stangeland, Swarnes and Wadel to break into Scammell’s home, armed and wearing ski masks, and extort information about the mysterious Muller’s whereabouts.

Three fingers

Scammell got three fingers shot off during the escapade, and he and his wife were left tied up in their kitchen.

Stangeland had refused to testify at the March portion of Barger’s preliminary hearing, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights. But the state has an alleged admission by Swarnes that Barger ordered the others to commit both the home invasion in November and the abduction of the wrong Jeffrey Muller in early January in New Jersey.

Martin, the public defender, argued at the end of Barger’s hearing that testimony failed to show that his client had done anything. He suggested that the co-defendants may be laying the crime at Barger’s doorstep as a way to mitigate their own guilt.

“I don’t see where Mr. Barger himself has done anything other than being around some of these people,” Martin said.

The judge did not agree with the argument, and found probable cause for Barger to stand trial on all 11 counts. The defendant is scheduled to make an initial appearance Tuesday in a trial division of the court.

Gun charges

In addition to eight felony counts related to the invasion of Charles and Linda Scammell’s home in rural Vernon County by three armed men on Nov. 9, William “Billy” Barger is charged with unlawful possession of firearms as a felon, possession of an illegal sawed-off shotgun, and tampering with evidence.

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