UTAH STATE PRISON — A man convicted of manslaughter 13 years ago was recently sent back to prison only six hours after he was released on parole.
"When I came back I was the laughing joke of the prison," Michael Todd Barton said with a chuckle at a recent parole hearing.
In 2001, Barton shot and killed Frank Mahler, 39, at Barton's apartment, 4658 S. 1455 East, following a night of drinking. He was originally charged with murder, a first-degree felony, but Barton pleaded guilty and mentally ill to a reduced charge of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in 2003. He was sentenced to one to 15 years at the Utah State Prison.
Barton was first paroled in 2009. Because of parole violations — mainly struggles with addiction — Barton has been sent back to prison and has been released two more times sine then.
The last time was in January, when Barton was released on parole. He was dropped off a bus terminal in Midvale where he planned to catch a shuttle to St. George to live with his parents. But he said while waiting for the shuttle, another man offered him alcohol.
After initially refusing, Barton said the man convinced him to get a fountain drink at a nearby convenience store, after which the man added alcohol to his drink.
"He poured some in there — poured quite a bit in, I guess. And it just hit me really hard. I got on the bus, the St. George shuttle, and I guess I was being kinda loud," he said in an audio recording of the parole hearing.
The bus driver pulled over in Millard County where Barton was arrested and later charged with threatening breach of peace on a bus and intoxication, both class C misdemeanors, in Millard County Justice Court.
"My dad was waiting for me and everything at the stop. I called him when I was on the bus and said I was on my way. The bus drove up and everyone got off but me. The bus driver got off and explained what happened: 'Well, he's in Millard County Jail,'" Barton recounted.
Barton, now 48, has been diagnosed with several mental illnesses over the years, including schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, and most recently with major depressive disorder and alcohol use disorder, according to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.
"You have a mental illness. You've had a mental illness for a long time," said Lori Smith, who conducted Barton's most recent hearing.
Barton admitted that he still hears voices occasionally that tell him he's "no good — just really down and demeaning stuff," he said.
"A lot of times it'll be talking and I'll be looking around and I don't know where it's coming from. Nobody's there," he said.
Still, Smith noted during the hearing that Barton was engaging in conversation with her, was looking at her, and was actually laughing at times. She also noted he has strong family support in St. George.
Barton's original sentence for his manslaughter conviction has expired.
Smith said she would be recommending to the full board that Barton be given another chance at parole. But she cautioned him that he needs to stay on his medications and continue therapy and stay away from alcohol.
"I want to give you another opportunity at parole. I think you can do it, but I don't think it will be easy," she said.
She also insisted that Barton be picked up by family members after he is released and not attempt public transportation again.
"I don't trust you to go to the St. George shuttle and not come back here in six hours," Smith said.
"I learned my lesson. I really did. I learned my lesson," Barton replied. "I can do it this time. I know I can. I really can this time. I've learned."
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