Butler Co. sheriff faces three criminal charges

Saturday, July 10, 2004

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Butler County Sheriff Bill Heaton was charged Friday with a misdemeanor count of stealing, a misdemeanor count of tampering with a witness and a felony count of acceding to corruption.

The charges were filed by Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle, who earlier this year was appointed special prosecutor by Butler County Circuit Court Judge Mark L. Richardson.

Heaton was ordered to make his initial court appearance Monday.

Heaton declined to comment.

The charges allege that in 2003, Heaton, 60, stole money from Butler County to pay the medical bills of Eugene Armbruster, a prisoner at the Butler County Justice Center who was injured while trimming trees at Heaton's home. Heaton allegedly instructed Armbruster to claim he had been injured by a fall at the jail so Heaton could submit the claims to the county.

Swingle declined further comment. "I intend to try the case in the courtroom, not in the media," he said. "The sheriff has maintained his innocence throughout this investigation."The acceding to corruption count alleges that Heaton asked Armbruster to lie about where he was injured in return for Heaton's testifying favorably for him in a federal detention hearing and for offering to keep Armbruster in the sheriff's custody rather than in a federal facility.

Armbruster was serving a one-year sentence for possession of a controlled substance and was awaiting trial on a federal charge of being a previously convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

The tampering with a witness count alleges that Heaton threatened to fire jail employee Sharon Kay Vosler to keep her from telling what she knew about how Armbruster was injured.

Each of the misdemeanors carries a punishment of up to a year in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The felony charge carries a punishment of one to four years in prison, or a county jail sentence of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

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