A Nebraska man learned that he will almost certainly die in prison for the 2020 strangling and stabbing death of his then-fiancée – whose body was left alone for her young children to find the next day.
Kolton Barnes, 27, received a sentence of life without parole plus an additional 85 to 106 years in prison almost two years to the day after 27-year-old Kayla Matulka was killed in her own bedroom.
According to the Lincoln Journal Star, the condemned man declined to speak at his sentencing hearing on Monday, July 18, 2022.
“I understand it all,” Barnes reportedly told Saunders County District Judge Christina Marroquin. “I’m not going to waste your time.”
Specifically, the defendant received life in prison for Matulka’s slaying. The additional decades were added on for six felony counts including two weapons charges, two child abuse charges, animal abuse, and tampering with physical evidence. He was convicted on all counts by Saunders County jurors in May of this year after a trial that ran just over two weeks, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
Barnes had stabbed Matulka nearly 30 times, and while he admitted to killing her, Barnes claims the violence was all in self-defense.
Prosecutors disputed that excuse.
“She wanted out and he refused to accept that, and because of that Kayla Matulka is dead,” Nebraska Assistant Attorney General Sandra Allen said during the state’s closing arguments. “He beat her, he strangled her and he stabbed her.”
The victim’s body was found the day after she died. Her 11-year-old son Jayden Matulka and 6-year-old daughter Kinsley Matulka woke up on the morning in question, wondering where their mom was. The children went to a neighbor’s house after being unable to find her or Barnes. After awhile, the older boy went back home to see if his mother had returned and soon discovered the worst.
The neighbor and law enforcement would both report finding the woman dead on the floor, naked, visibly beaten, with a black eye and purple bruises in the shape of a finger on one of her elbows. Kayla Matulka’s body was in the same room as the body of the family dog, Diesel, who has also been stabbed to death.
Barnes told jurors he came home the night of the killing to find Diesel already dead on the floor and upon making that discovery, Matulka came for him with a knife. The defendant responded, he said, by punching her three times before a scuffle where they both fell. Barnes said he fell on top of Matulka; that the knife ended up in her chest.
“Kayla come at me with the knife,” Barnes testified. “I panicked and put my hand up to try to grab her wrist or stop her. And I ended up having to hit her in the side of the head three times.”
The defense also pointed to a post-mortem report that showed the deceased had at least six different drugs in her system at the time she died, seeking to paint the victim as “crazed out of her mind” and Barnes’ response as a viable reaction of sorts.
The prosecution had a different theory, and presented evidence that the defendant forced his way into the house as he had threatened to do in deleted text messages after Matulka tried to end their relationship and told him not to come home on the night of July 15, 2020.
According to Omaha-based ABC affiliate KETV, court documents said Barnes, when questioned, eventually told investigators, “I wish I could have stopped myself” and that he had, in fact, deleted a text to Matulka that read, in part: “don’t make me kick down the door.”
Prosecutors also argued the defendant sent his victim fake texts after she was already dead in an effort to cover his tracks.
“All of these things are contrary to what a self-defense case would be,” Allen said during the sentencing hearing. “The only redeeming quality that Mr. Barnes has is that he didn’t harm those kids that night.”
“It was like a tilt-a-whirl nightmare,” Barnes told jurors as he belatedly relied upon the self-defense theory after allegedly changing his story several times in the aftermath of the broken-off engagement and gruesome death.
Instead, prosecutors noted, the defendant first said he couldn’t remember anything about that bloody night and felt that he was being framed. He then said he thought his ex might have killed herself, but he abandoned that narrative after learning that she had been stabbed at least twice after she was already dead, the Star reported.
The court clearly agreed with the prosecution’s characterization of the crime — and the criminal.
“This was an atrocity, the crime that was inflicted on Kayla Matulka,” Marroquin opined when handing down the lengthy stint behind bars. “And the actions were violent and brutal.”
Barnes’ attorney, Matt McDonald of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, told the Star that his client plans to appeal.
[image via Saunders County Sheriff’s Office]
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