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

ON THE AFTERNOON of August 21st, 2007, like many afternoons before, an old man named William Barnes dipped his mop into its bucket, lifted it, and swabbed the floor of a Roxborough grocery market: the same motion again and once again, working his way across the surface. He found a certain pleasure in the act, if only because no one forced him to do it.

As a man enters his eighth decade on earth, he figured, it’s time to get his affairs in order. Make his peace. So Barnes had settled into this simple routine, cleaning up life’s small messes. And it was about darn time.

Midway through the job, Barnes looked up to see his great-niece, Ashley, walk in to say hello. She chatted with him about small things: her studies at nursing school, her grandmother’s lost lottery ticket. Wonderful, mundane affairs. After she said goodbye he returned to the work, dipping, lifting, swabbing. Good to see her. He enjoyed getting acquainted with his family. Even his son sometimes visited, now.

Later he would sweep this floor, maybe. Or shepherd the shopping carts from the parking lot. Probably talk with some old men, or women. Or children. Or men in work clothes. Or ladies carrying babies. A doctor, or a seamstress. The variety of people in life — in this new life — never failed to fascinate him.

“I wasted my life,” he would tell people, when they asked. And they asked often, because 71-year-old William Barnes was something of a relic, an intriguing criminal artifact unearthed by the erosion of years. And, truth be told, most men who live like Barnes lived don’t survive long enough to use a cane, like he did.

All that lay behind him now, though. He wore a white smock at work, which was nice. And he’d just bought a maroon 1987 Toyota Corolla. And he had a mobile phone, which he —

Two men approached, down the aisle. Detectives, moving with purpose among the groceries.

“You have the right to remain silent,” one of them said, cuffing Barnes’s wrists. He listened to the next bit about words being used in a court of law, and lawyers appointed, and all the rest. He had heard it before.

For the first time in his life, though, he had no idea why he needed the right to remain silent. Who did they think he was? The answer to that question rests at the heart of an upcoming trial that may, before it’s done, set a national legal precedent and change the way people think about justice.

Eventually, the police gave their answer: You’re a cop killer.

As the police loaded Barnes into the backseat of their car, he struggled to grasp what had happened. And at last the old man realized: A bullet he’d fired more than four decades earlier had finally completed its trajectory.

 

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  • Joe

    William Barnes committed a horiific crime but he DID NOT kill officer Barclay. The Phila. DA’s office is only trying to make a name for itself by having Mr. Barnes arrested for murder. I find it impossible for a bullet 41 years after the fact to be a cause of death when the officer was in numerous accidents andas denied benefits from the city and may have been ABUSED at the nursing home he was in at the time. That is who should be investigated not William Barnes. Tax payers you should be in an uproar over this. With God on William’s side hopefully he will be a free man this spring.

  • Helethan

    This is unbelievable

  • Helethan

    I hope this man is a free man this spring

  • Joe

    UNBELIVEABLE, i just read that 2 people were shot by Phila. police officers one unarmed the other an innocent bystander and died from their injuries. DA Lynn Abraham chose not to file charges against the officers but does in the case of Mr. Barnes. I guess if Mr. Barnes shot John Doe he wouldn’t have been charged. Shoot a cop who ends up dying 41 years later you get arrested a cop shoots a citizen within months of dying no charges. Lynn Abraham you were so WRONG for what you did to Mr. Barnes.

  • Diane

    Mr Barnes did not murder Mr Barclay, he went on to live for 41 more years. My Uncle should not be in prison as we speak. Lynn Abraham should be ashamed of herself wasting tax dollars money on a case that will not have a leg to stand on during trial. We, the Barnes family know that justice will prevail, but we will never get back the time that our Uncle spent in prison during his elder years. Lets just hope and pray that he lives for another 25 years!!

  • Jim

    You did a great job of impartial reporting on a difficult subject. Thank you.

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