Federal judge recommends immediate release for man who had been acquitted of killing officer

By Jon Campisi | Feb 10, 2012

A 76-year-old man who two years ago escaped a murder conviction stemming from the death of a former police officer whom the man shot decades earlier during a botched robbery, leaving the cop paralyzed until his 2007 death, should be immediately released from prison, a federal judge has recommended.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice issued a report Tuesday recommending that Pennsylvania’s Board of Probation and Parole release Williams Barnes from a state prison.

The Associated Press reported that Rice’s recommendation will be forwarded to U.S. District Judge James Knoll Gardner in Allentown, Pa., who will ultimately rule whether or not Barnes should indeed be released from prison.

During a robbery attempt in the mid 1960s, Barnes shot and seriously wounded Philadelphia Police Officer Walter Barclay, who ended up spending the next several decades confined to a wheelchair in a paralyzed state.

Barnes was sent to prison for 16 years on attempted murder and other charges.

Barclay died decades later in what prosecutors contended were injuries and infection directly related to the shooting.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office lodged murder charges against Barnes, but a jury acquitted the elderly man in May 2010.

Following his acquittal, however, Barnes was re-jailed after it was discovered that he had used a cellphone and driven a car without his parole officer’s approval at the time he was arrested back in 2007 following Barclay’s death.

According to media reports, Barnes was given six months in prison for those parole violations, but he has been repeatedly denied parole every time it has come up since, causing him to remain behind bars to this day.

Defense attorneys have argued that Barnes has more than paid the price for his crimes, and non-crimes, and should be released immediately.

Rice, the federal magistrate, said in his report that Barnes has endured enough and should be set free.

“After careful consideration, I respectfully recommend Barnes’ petition be granted, and Barnes be released from custody immediately,” Rice wrote in his report, which was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “A local prosecutor portrays Barnes as a murderer meriting life in prison, but a jury of Barnes’ peers acquitted Barnes of murder.

“The Board’s repeated denial of reparole strongly suggests that, like the local prosecutor, the Board seeks nonetheless to punish Barnes for that crime,” the report continues. “If due process means anything, it means that the state may not punish an individual for conduct of which he has been acquitted.”

Rice wrote that Barnes has committed no new crime in 30 years, he has been cited for no misconduct while incarcerated for nearly 20 years and his only infraction in the past three decades stemmed from his possession of car keys and a cell phone in 2007 without the permission of his parole officer.

“For that technical parole violation, Barnes has now served almost four-and-one-half years in prison – nearly three times the maximum term suggested by state law,” the report reads. “Considering the totality of the unique circumstances presented here, the Board’s October 19, 2011 reparole denial was arbitrary, conscience-shocking and unconstitutional.”

Defense attorney Sam Silver told the Associated Press in an interview that he was pleased with the judge’s recommendation.

“Judge Rice obviously did a very thorough analysis of the record,” Silver was quoted as saying. “The result is very gratifying and we’re thrilled.”

Prosecutors, who may file objections to Rice’s report, have been quoted as saying that the case should be left up to the state courts to decide, not a federal judge.

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