Prosecutor: Residue tests positive in Bollinger County shooting case

Thursday, August 16, 2007
Lisa Barlow, left, was led out of the Bollinger County Courthouse by Eric Sarakas and chief deputy Leo McElrath after her arraignment Wednesday morning. (Kit Doyle)

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- On the same day Lisa Barlow pleaded not guilty to killing Michael Strong, the prosecutor handling the case said that gunshot residue tests showed that Barlow handled a just-fired gun the evening her boyfriend died.

Every courtroom bench was filled at Wednesday's arraignment at the Bollinger County Courthouse in Marble Hill, where Associate Circuit Judge Scott E. Thomsen set Barlow's preliminary hearing for 9 a.m. Sept. 28. Barlow faces charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

In the days following Strong's death, police stated that they had performed the residue test, but they did not make it public because the results came after they had submitted a probable-cause statement. According to Bollinger County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Gray, the test results add to evidence that suggests Barlow lied to police the night Strong was killed.

"We have that result now, and both sides will have to find a way to deal with it," Gray said. "It certainly strengthens the state's case."

Barlow is being held at the Cape Girardeau County Jail on a $500,000 cash bond.

Her counsel, Chris Davis, a public defender from Jackson, asked the court to reduce the bond to $50,000 in cash or surety, stating that her lifelong connections to Cape Girardeau and Bollinger counties did not present a high risk of flight.

Gray countered his request with a filed written response. In his rebuttal, he stated that since Strong's murder, Barlow "has few if any ties to Bollinger County."

"It's early in the process for a bond reduction," said Leo McElrath, chief deputy for the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department after the arraignment hearing. "Denying the bond reduction request was the proper thing to do at this point based on the high tension with the Strong family at this time. This gives them some peace of mind for a while."

The family was relieved to see the bond reduction denied and was generally satisfied with the proceedings, said Laura Roark, Strong's daughter.

Strong's family members and friends sported large pins imprinted with a picture of the smiling 49-year-old man wearing his cowboy hat. They had received more than 100 orders for the buttons, said his niece, Donna Martin.

"We'll keep wearing them -- well, I don't know how long we'll keep wearing them, actually," Martin said.

Roark wanted people to remember Strong as "a good dad and a good grandpa," she said.

Gray said the state will present basic evidence at the preliminary hearing Sept. 28 to move the case toward a jury trial.

"The state simply has to put on sufficient evidence to show the court probable cause to believe that a felony was committed and that the defendant took part in the committing of the felony," Gray said.

An ongoing investigation by the Cape Girardeau County-Bollinger County Major Case Squad highlighted numerous bits of circumstantial evidence against Barlow. Among these are conflicting statements that question the truthfulness of her story that she hid under the bed and called 911 when intruders broke into the house, including the fact that a neighbor testified he heard a gunshot an hour before a 911 call was received.

Strong's family is relieved that a preliminary hearing date has been set, so they can move toward getting the justice and closure they need, Roark said.

Barlow said nothing during the hearing, and her family members who gathered in support declined to comment.

Gray said he expects several months to pass before the case goes to trial.

bidicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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