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Nebraska Man Who Stabbed Fiancée And Dog To Death As Her Kids Slept Gets Life

Kolton Barnes was convicted in May of the murder of his fiancée, Kayla Matulka, and of killing his own dog, Diesel, the same night.

By Dorian Geiger
A police handout of Kolton Barnes

A Nebraska man who was convicted in the 2020 murder of his fiancée was dealt a life sentence this week. 

Kolton Barnes, 27, was sentenced to life without parole plus an additional 85-106 years on Monday for the gruesome slaying of his fiancée Kayla Matulka as well as other charges, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com.

A jury found him guilty in May of first-degree murder, use of a deadly weapon to commit the murder, two counts of negligent child abuse, evidence tampering, animal cruelty for killing his dog and use of a deadly weapon for animal abuse.

"This was an atrocity, the crime that was inflicted on Kayla Matulka,” Saunders County District Judge Christina Marroquin, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. “And the actions were violent and brutal.”

Barnes, who declined an opportunity to address the court at his sentencing, had maintained throughout the trial he’d killed Matulka in self-defense.

"I understand it all," Barnes told Marroquin in court on Monday "I'm not going to waste your time."

A personal photo of Kayla Matulka

Matulka’s 11-year-old son discovered his mother’s dead body at her home in Malmo, Nebraska on July 15, 2020. Authorities say the young boy and his six-year-old sister were sleeping in the residence at the time of her murder.

Investigators say Matulka was nude on the ground with a black eye and a bruised arm when her son found her. She’d been beaten, strangled and stabbed 24 times. Barnes’ dog, Diesel, was also found stabbed to death at the scene.

During trial, Barnes maintained he’d killed Matulka in self-defense after returning from a bar. He testified that he came into the couple’s bedroom to find his dog dead on the floor and his fiancée brandishing a knife. Barnes told the jury he then punched Matulka three times before the pair collapsed to the floor. The knife punctured her chest during the struggle, he said.

“Kayla come at me with the knife,” Barnes testified, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. “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.”

Barnes’ defense counsel — who pointed to Matulka's struggles with mental health and addiction issues — insisted that the victim was “crazed out of her mind,” on the night of her death. The defense also cited a toxicology report in which methamphetamine, alcohol, MDMA, clonazepam, marijuana and nitrous oxide were found in Matulka’s system during her autopsy, according to the Lincoln Star Journal.

Prosecutors, however, countered Barnes had forced himself inside the home — as he'd threatened to do via text message before the murder — and killed Matulka after she broke up with him.

“She wanted out, and he refused to accept that,” Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Sandra Allen said during the trial’s closing arguments. “He beat her, he strangled her and he stabbed her.”

Allen said Barnes also attempted to cover his tracks after Matulka’s death by trying to get rid of the murder weapon, deleting threatening texts he'd sent her and sending further messages to Matulka's phone as though he thought she were alive after she’d died.

"All of these things are contrary to what a self-defense case would be," Allen said. "The only redeeming quality that Mr. Barnes has is that he didn't harm those kids that night.”

Matt McDonald, Barnes’ defense attorney, said he plans to appeal his client's sentence. He declined to comment on the case when contacted by Oxygen.com on Monday morning.