William Barnes Profile: This Man Shot a Cop

In a case that may change how we think of justice, the D.A. wants him to go to jail for it. Again

He is scheduled for trial in May, and the case promises to be remarkable. Double jeopardy doesn’t apply, because while Barnes served two decades for the initial crime, prosecutors say that crime has since evolved into something new, and worse. At a pretrial hearing, Judge Bradley Moss noted that he could find no other example of a murder charge brought so long after the initial act.

But there is, it turns out, one example for comparison. Its similarities are astonishing, but its final difference is perhaps more incredible:

One night in October 1960, two young brothers in Spanish Harlem shot a rival gang member twice, paralyzing him for life. One brother served five years, the other a year and a half. This past March, the victim, William Jenkins, died at age 66 due to infections caused by the injury, according to the New York medical examiner. One of the shooters had died in the intervening years, and the district attorney decided not to press charges against the remaining brother: He had already served time, too many years ago. The victim’s family, moreover, had forgiven the offenders.

After police arrested Barnes for the final time, cameras followed as he climbed out of the detectives’ car, wearing handcuffs. At Michael Friel’s house, the children stared at the television. One of them called out, “Hey! Is that Pop-Pop?”

Michael entered the room to see, sure enough, his father making the perpetrator’s shuffling walk. They had known each other as free men for two weeks.

And Barnes, whose thin white hair blew in the wind, looked into the camera. He held out his shackled hands in a gesture that answers its own question, and maybe that of society at large.

What can I do? he seemed to say.

My hands are tied.