Parole set for man acquitted two years ago in officer's death

Almost two years after a Philadelphia jury acquitted him of murdering a police officer he shot and wounded almost a half-century earlier, William J. Barnes, 75, will soon be paroled.

Thursday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole ordered Barnes paroled, said defense attorney Samuel W. Silver, although it is not known when he will be released from the state prison at Graterford in Montgomery County, where he has been housed.

Silver, who led a team of lawyers from the Center City firm of Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis L.L.P., which represented Barnes without charge, said one of his associates called Barnes after getting word of the parole board's decision and described Barnes as "very pleased but also at the point of getting emotional."

Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams, said the office would not comment on the parole decision. In fact, the city prosecutor's office has not been involved in the Barnes case since May 24, 2010, when a Common Pleas Court jury acquitted Barnes of murder in the death of police Officer Walter T. Barclay.

Barnes would have good reason to be skeptical about the parole. He was already paroled once, in 2006, after serving 16 years of a 20-year sentence for shooting and wounding Barclay, a 23-year-old rookie, during a 1966 burglary of an East Oak Lane beauty salon.

When Barclay - whom the shooting had turned into a paraplegic - died of an infection in August 2007 at age 64, the District Attorney's Office ordered Barnes arrested on murder charges. Authorities found that Barnes, who was free and working at a Roxborough supermarket, had a cellphone and car keys - violations of his parole - and he was returned to prison.

The trial two years ago was a fascinating examination of causation: Did Barnes' bullet inexorably lead to Barclay's death 41 years later?

City prosecutors argued yes, and experts from the city Medical Examiner's Office opined that the fatal bladder infection was a common result of the paralysis that would not have afflicted Barclay had Barnes not shot him.

The defense never disputed that Barnes shot and paralyzed Barclay. But Silver challenged how the prosecution medical experts could directly link the 1966 gunshot wound to the urinary tract infection and blood poisoning that eventually killed Barclay.

Three car accidents and two wheelchair accidents, Silver argued, helped accelerate the deterioration of Barclay's health. Silver also cited hospital records that mentioned alleged physical abuse from 2001 to 2003, during which time Barclay had live-in caretakers in his Levittown home.

The records noted that Barclay had complained that the boarders kept him confined in his room, underfed him to the point that he developed scurvy, and left him unwashed and sitting in his own waste.

Barclay contracted incurable bedsores. He went into a nursing home and died four years later.

But the acquittal did not result in Barnes' release from prison. Silver and his team filed a federal lawsuit against the state parole board contending that Barnes' due process rights were being violated.

The parole board fought back, and Barnes, who has a history of heart problems, remained in a cell at Graterford.

In February, U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice recommended that Barnes be released immediately. He wrote that Barnes has endured "a shocking pattern of arbitrary and irrational expectations, requirements, and parole denials."

As late as last week, lawyers for the parole board were filing objections and planning to contest the recommendation at a hearing this month before a federal judge.

Suddenly, this week, Silver said, the parole board conducted a new review of Barnes' case and then, Thursday, ordered that he be paroled.

"It's been a long road," Silver said.

 


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @joeslobo.