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A Nebraska man was found guilty of beating, strangling and stabbing his fiancée to death while her children slept nearby.
Kolton Barnes, 27, was found guilty by a Saunders County jury on Tuesday on seven felony counts in connection with the murder of Kayla Matulka, 27, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. In addition to the first degree murder charges, Barnes was found guilty of child abuse for leaving Matulka's body for her young children to find and of animal abuse for stabbing his dog to death.
The verdict came after a two-week trial during which jurors heard that Barnes kicked down his fiancée’s door on July 15, 2020 and killed her, after she tried to break off the relationship.
Matulka’s two children, ages 6 and 11, were fast asleep when the murder took place. At around 9:30 a.m. the following day, they went to a family friend’s house nearby to say they hadn’t seen their mother or Barnes, according to the Journal Star. The friend fed the kids and tried to contact Matulka to no avail.
The 11-year-old went back to his house and then returned to the friend's to say his mother was dead.
Matulka was found naked on the bedroom floor, black and blue, with one of her wrists still in a restraining device and her pajamas cut off her body. It was later determined she’d been strangled and stabbed to death.
“She wanted out, and he refused to accept that,” Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Sandra Allen said in her closing arguments. “He beat her, he strangled her and he stabbed her.”
Deputies responding to the scene also found Barnes’ dog, Diesel, stabbed to death.
On the stand, Barnes testified that he came home from the bar to find his dog dead and Matulka with a knife in her hand. Defense attorneys said the victim was “crazed out of her mind,” noting that Matulka’s history was spotted with mental health issues and substance abuse.
The defense additionally pointed to postmortem toxicology reports that showed Matulka had a cocktail of drugs in her system, including methamphetamine, clonazepam, MDMA, marijuana, alcohol and laughing gas, according to the Journal Star. They argued that Barnes merely “reacted” when Matulka attempted to attack him with the knife.
Barnes testified that a struggle ensued, and the double-edged knife ended up in the victim’s 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.”
Matulka was actually stabbed 27 times. Barnes claimed he couldn’t remember stabbing her but said it was “very likely” that he had.
“It was like a tilt-a-whirl nightmare,” Barnes added.
Earlier in the evening, Matulka texted him to break off the engagement, according to prosecutors. In texts — which he attempted to delete — Barnes told Matulka that it wasn’t over.
Barnes texted, “Don’t make me kick down the door,” according to ABC Omaha affiliate KETV.
He later texted, “All day I thought about why I didn’t take myself last night, too.”
Barnes claimed he couldn’t remember much after Matulka’s death, but a neighbor’s security camera captured him coming and going to the residence multiple times that night. He then said he thought he drank too much and that it was all a bad dream.
The next morning, he saw blood on his shirt and stopped at a local store to buy a new one. When he returned, law enforcement was on the scene.
Barnes’ accounts of the events kept changing in the following months, according to the Journal Star. First, he claimed he had no memory of the events and alleged someone was setting him up. For months, he told relatives he believed Matulka’s death from 27 stab wounds was the result of suicide, before learning that the postmortem examination showed that two of the stab wounds were inflicted after her death.
Finally, Barnes arrived at the self-defense theory during the trial.
The jury also heard evidence that he'd previously abused another girlfriend and threatened her with a shotgun when she tried to leave him, according to the Journal Star.
A jury of 11 men and one woman began deliberating Tuesday afternoon and came to a decision shortly after 7:30 p.m. Barnes was found guilty of first-degree murder, two counts of child abuse, cruelty to an animal, two felony weapons charges and evidence tampering.
Barnes is scheduled for a sentencing hearing in July.
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