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 other hand, Campbell knew Barclay’s paralysis had brought him a host of medical challenges, including the long-term use of a urinary catheter and the attendant risk of infection. So he made his ruling: homicide.

William Barnes’s younger brother Jimmy remembers hearing word of the ruling. “He never made excuses for his actions when he was a young man,” Jimmy said. “But this seemed like someone was lying in wait, all these years later.”

 After Campbell made his call, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham faced a decision of her own: Should she charge William Barnes with murder, or let it go? Was he a killer? Or just an old, frail man? The answer depended on her view of justice. Judicial philosophy divides the many types of punishment into two basic camps, both of which are legitimate: the consequential, and the retributive.

The consequential camp holds that punishment is meant to deter criminals, and to incapacitate the dangerous. There’s little call for this sort of punishment in Barnes’s case because, as a Penn professor of criminology said recently, “Crime is a young man’s game.”

The second view, retributive, seeks satisfaction for the aggrieved. Shortly after Barclay’s death, his sister, Rosalyn Harrison, said of Barnes to the Bucks County Courier Times, “I am bitter toward him; I can’t get rid of that. … My brother died from that gunshot wound. Every problem he had, they were all related to his paralysis from being shot.”

Of course, the Barnes family takes another view. “My brother served 20 years for shooting Mr. Barclay, as he should have,” Jimmy Barnes said. “But he paid that debt to society. He didn’t go on to live some easy life with a wife and house. He lived a horrible existence.”

In this case, there was an additional political element. “We wouldn’t be having this discussion if there hadn’t been a cop involved,” said Allen Hornblum, a former Temple professor who helped Barnes convey his message to students. “Lynne Abraham wouldn’t be prosecuting Joe Blow from 21st and Pine.” (Abraham’s office declined to discuss the case for this story.)

A couple of weeks after Barclay’s death, Abraham called a press conference and announced her decision for the retributive: She would bring charges against Barnes. “When you set in motion a chain of events, a perpetrator of a crime is responsible for every single thing that flows from that chain of events,” Abraham said at the press conference in September. “As long as we can prove the chain is unbroken.”

Barnes found himself back in prison.

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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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