William J. Barnes, the 75-year-old ex-con who has been sitting in state prison for the past two years despite having been acquitted in the murder of a Philadelphia police officer whom Barnes shot and wounded in the 1960s, has been ordered released from custody.
The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole ordered Barnes paroled from the Graterford state prison in Montgomery County on Feb. 29.
The agency provided local media with a copy of the board’s decision that was sent to Barnes.
Barnes was sent to prison for 16 years following his conviction for shooting and paralyzing Officer Walter T. Barclay. The rookie cop, who was 23 years old at the time, was investigating a burglary call at a Philadelphia beauty salon at the time he was injured during an exchange of gunfire with Barnes, according to media reports.
Barclay, who was from then on confined to a wheelchair, died in 2007 at age 64 following a urinary tract infection, which spiraled into other health problems.
After Barclay’s death, Barnes was arrested and charged by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office with the former officer’s murder.
The case represented a unique legal battle pitting prosecutors who contended the half-century-old bullet wound directly led to Barclay’s death against defense attorneys who claimed that there were too many other factors that could have played a role in Barclay’s eventual demise.
(These included the fact that Barclay had had numerous car accidents and wheelchair mishaps over the years that could have contributed to his ailments).
Following his acquittal by jury in late May 2010, Barnes wasn’t set free, but rather was re-confined to state prison for parole violations; when he was arrested for Barclay’s murder, investigators found Barnes to be in possession of car keys and a cell phone.
The fact that he has been held for nearly two years for those seemingly minor parole violations sparked frustration among Barnes’ defense team and supporters who say the elderly man has more than paid his price to society, and should no longer be incarcerated.
Earlier this month, a federal judge agreed with this assertion, and recommended Barnes’ immediate release.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice had written in his recommendation that Barnes has endured “a shocking pattern of arbitrary and irrational expectations, requirements and parole denials.”
State parole board attorneys were preparing to file objections to Rice’s recommendations, when they suddenly had a change of heart and ordered Barnes’ parole, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
According to the board’s decision, Barnes was paroled for the following factors: his participation in and completion of prescribed institutional programs; his “positive institutional behavior;” the positive recommendation made by the Department of Corrections; and his acceptance of responsibility for the offenses committed.
Barnes was ordered not to drive a vehicle without a parole agent’s permission. He will also have to undergo drug and alcohol testing.
Barnes was also ordered not to have contact with Barclay’s family.