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The murder trial of a Jackson County, Ala., man in the 1997 slaying of his first wife has been continued until September.

Barry Van Whitton's case was delayed to Sept. 9 upon a defense motion, according to Joy Patterson, spokeswoman for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, whose office is handling the case. The trial had been set to start on Tuesday.

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Barry Van Whitton

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Investigators still are looking for Kim Whitton and Haleigh Culwell. Anyone with any information on either of the cases is asked to contact the Jackson County Sheriff's Office at 256-574-2610, the Attorney General's Cold Case Unit at 866-419-1236 or coldcasetips@ago.state.al.us.

A final motion hearing and pretrial conference is set for 10 a.m. CDT Sept. 3 at the Jackson County Courthouse, Patterson said on Thursday.

Ron Smith, one of Whitton's two attorneys in the case, said Friday the continuance was granted on a defense motion asking more time to prepare for trial and develop the case with experts. Smith's co-counsel is Scottsboro lawyer Gerald Paulk.

"There's a lot of work to do. The judge understood that. Our client wanted additional time for his attorneys, as well," Smith said. "The state's had it for a while but we've only had it for about five months."

Whitton is accused of killing his first wife, 28-year-old Michelle Townson Whitton, who disappeared Dec. 7, 1997, and whose body was found in a shallow grave in DeKalb County on Jan. 20, 1998. The site in the Powell area near the Jackson-DeKalb county line was about 15 miles from the couple's home in Dutton, Ala., according to Huntsville Times archives.

Whitton was charged in January with murder on an indictment issued in December. He pleaded not guilty Jan. 27.

Barry Whitton also is suspected in the 2007 disappearance of his second wife, 36-year-old Kimberly Compton Whitton, and her daughter, Haleigh Brean Culwell, 11. They vanished June 21, 2007, when she left work at a Scottsboro nursing home. It's unclear when the little girl was last seen, according to the paper's archives.

Jackson was brought to Jackson County to face charges in Michelle Whitton's death from federal prison on West Virginia. He was serving time for a weapons conviction stemming from a search of his 40-acre farm in the town of Section, Ala., after Kimberly Whitton and Haleigh disappeared.

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Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.

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