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Agent says Whitton suspect in disappearance of family

HUNTSVILLE (AP) — A federal agent has testified that Barry Whitton is a suspect in the disappearance of his wife and stepdaughter, who have been missing for about a month, and in the death of his first wife, who was an apparent homicide victim 10 years ago.

FBI Special Agent Curtis Parker testified that during a search of the rural Jackson County home of Whitton, 38, investigators found blood on a hatchet handle and in one of his pickup trucks. Agents also recovered five weapons, including a loaded rifle and shotgun, Parker said.

Investigators have said they originally went to Whitton’s home looking for his wife, Kimberly, 36, and her daughter, Haleigh Culwell, 11, who have not been seen since his wife left her job at a Scottsboro nursing home on June 21.

Parker, testifying at a federal court detention hearing for Whitton Tuesday, said that Whitton is a suspect in their disappearance and in the death of his first wife, Michelle. Her body was found in January 1998 buried under sticks and rocks on a hillside in rural Jackson County. She died as a result of a blow to her head, the agent said, adding that she also had marks on her neck.

At the detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Harwell G. Davis III denied bond and ordered Whitton continue to be held on a charge that he violated the federal law that makes it a crime for a convicted felon to possess firearms. Whitton was arrested Thursday July 12 at his log home down an isolated dirt road near Section.

Whitton’s attorney, Bruce Gardner of Huntsville, said he could not reveal what his client has told him, other than “he doesn’t know anything” about what happened to his second wife. Gardner described the case against Whitton as “weak.”

“He hasn’t been arrested in 16 years. This whole thing is about that they think he killed his first wife and ... his second wife,” Gardner said.

The magistrate judge said he was “extremely disturbed” by a 1988 psychological report of Whitton that showed he retaliated against people by torturing and killing their animals.

Jeffrey Purcell, a federal probation officer, testified that he considers Whitton a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Purcell said that in the psychological report Whitton said his solution to dealing with problems and people was to live in the woods away from everyone.

“I’m like a wolf,” he said Whitton told mental health examiners. “I take what I want.”

Purcell said the psychological report was prepared after Whitton was charged with escape and several counts of theft. He said Whitton was not convicted of those charges.

Purcell testified that Whitton said in the report that “when people do something to me, I feel like I got to get them back.”

The psychological report said Whitton told his interviewer that he killed a neigyhbor’s dog and hung its skin on the neighbor’s door knob, the agent said.

Whitton wore wrist and ankle shackles and a red Cullman County jail uniform in court.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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