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

Back in prison and watching his son slip away, Barnes ramped up his efforts to escape. Throughout his career, so to speak, he made an astonishing dozen escape attempts, with varying success. He made the cinematic bedsheet-rope, dug a hole in his cell wall, sawed his cell bars, stole a guard’s uniform. He once made a shank, a set of handcuff keys, and a gun-like contraption that wouldn’t shoot anything but looked impressive; he managed to sneak them into his pockets one day when he and a fellow inmate were due to appear at a courthouse in Pittsburgh. On their way, the partner pulled the fake gun on the sheriff’s deputy in the passenger’s seat, and Barnes pulled the shank on the driver. But the driver threw his hand up in defense, and impaled it on the blade. In the resulting chaos, the patrol car smashed into the car in front of them, but the bleeding driver bashed his way to their destination. “Took us in to the sheriff’s department and kicked our ass for like an hour,” Barnes said. At the courthouse, the judge tacked on several more years to his sentence for the stunt.

One day, Michael visited Barnes in prison once again. The boy had become a 35-year-old man. He used his mother’s married name — Friel — and not Barnes’s. He had children of his own, now, and their existence made him curious about what lay up the family’s genetic stream. He sat across a table from the older man and searched for some sliver of common ground. They both liked music from their respective generations, and in the awkward manner of two men bound together but unacquainted, they used lyrics to express themselves. Barnes quoted Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle,” about an absent father’s repentance:

My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.

Michael said, “Yeah, well, I know a song too,” and cited words by Everclear:

“Father of mine,
Tell me where did you go?”

“I’m never going to call you Dad, because you’re not,” Michael said. “You’re just a guy who helped my mother create me.”

Barnes agreed.

Michael braced himself. “But I am a Christian,” he said, “and I do believe in forgiveness.” And he walked out.

In 2005, Jimmy Barnes received a surprise call from his older brother. “They’re letting me out,” he said.

Jimmy stood holding the phone. He felt dazed. “What?” he said. “They what?”

Jimmy picked Barnes up outside the prison, a quarter-century after his last free breath. The old convict marveled at Jimmy’s car, a new four-wheel-drive. “Amazing,” he said. They drove to Burger King, where Jimmy paid. The kid behind the counter handed Barnes a cup, and he stood for a long time, just holding it. The kid went about his business. Finally Barnes leaned across the counter and asked, “What do I do with this?” The last time he’d been in a fast-food restaurant, drinks weren’t self-service.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 < Previous Next >View as One Page
  • 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.

  • Sarah

    if you need an extra money and you a good writer then this is for you
    freelance writer

  • Sarah

    if you need an extra money and you a good writer then this is for you
    freelance writer

  • Sarah

    if you need an extra money and you a good writer then this is for you
    freelance writer