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

“My dad had spasms, and they were scary,” Keene said. “I remember as a kid being very scared. All of a sudden his leg would start shaking, and then his whole body up to his neck would just shake. If he had something in his hand, you had to get it out of his hand.”

In the 1970s he took a job working at an information booth in 30th Street Station, but that didn’t last long. His body simply couldn’t bear the strain. He fell from his wheelchair in 1975, then survived another car accident soon after. His marriage crumbled under the weight of his need. The daily struggle simply to exist — to dress, to eat, to urinate — required enormous effort. Some days he spent entire afternoons in the bathroom, and passed the time playing cards with his stepdaughter under the bathroom door.

Eventually, Peggy Anne had children of her own, and Barclay felt the full weight of his injuries and illnesses. “It made my children scared, because they were little,” Keene said. “When Grandpops starts shaking like that, and you’re sitting on his lap, that is a very scary thing to a child. And that bothered my dad a lot. He would go into his room and say, ‘I don’t want to scare the children. I’m so sorry.’”

Slowly, Walter Barclay began to recede into a prison of his own.

For a few years, Michael’s mother took him to visit his father in prison. “She did that until I was six or seven,” he said recently. Then the visits tapered to nothing.

The mother and boy scratched out their lives in the Hill Creek housing projects. One childhood memory juts up above all others, in power and detail: police kicking in the door at their home, one night, during one of his father’s escapes. A demand for whereabouts, a search, a withdrawal.

In 1980 the state released William Barnes once more into society, and he tried to visit his adolescent son, but the boy’s mother refused. “There was a lot of family quarreling over that,” Michael said. “I wanted to see him. She didn’t.” Just months later, police busted Barnes for another armed robbery, and he returned again to prison, with another decades-long sentence. Michael made a decision as he entered young manhood that he would push all thoughts of his father from his mind. “Piece of shit,” he thought. “He shot a cop.”