Why Won’t Philadelphia Let This Man Out of Prison?

Cop-shooter William Barnes served his time.

Let’s be clear right up front: William Barnes is a lowlife scum. But it is an absolute travesty that he remains in prison two years after his acquittal and five years after he was jailed on trumped-up murder charges. This is prosecutorial misconduct run amok.

The Barnes case has made a mockery of Philadelphia’s justice system. It is another sad legacy of former District Attorney Lynne Abraham’s reign of error. Now, the continued abuse of Barnes’s constitutional rights remains a public embarrassment of current DA Seth Williams’s administration.

This case stretches all the way back to 1966, when Barnes shot and paralyzed Philadelphia Police Officer Walter Barclay during a botched burglary. Barnes was a career petty criminal and a dirtbag. But he is no murderer.

Yes, Barnes shot a cop, which is abhorrent. But Officer Barclay lived for another 41 years. Granted, he was paralyzed, which some may argue is not living. No doubt Barnes destroyed Barclay’s quality of life. I feel terrible about what happened to Barclay and can’t even imagine the pain and suffering he and his family had to endure.

But for that shooting, Barnes paid a price. He was convicted and sent to prison. Barnes served his time—16 years—and was released.

After Barclay died in 2007, DA Abraham’s abuse of power began. She charged Barnes with murder, claiming the 1966 shooting set off a chain of events, bedsores and such, which led to the officer’s death at age 64.

The case was a medical stretch when it comes to the legal definition of murder. I suspect prosecutors knew as much. But Abraham had Barnes locked up on first-degree murder charges and held without bail. That way Barnes was behind bars, while a series of procedural delays and foot-dragging by the DA’s office slowed his right to a speedy trial.

In 2010, Barnes was acquitted at trial. He should have been released on the spot. It was bad enough that he was forced to spend three years in prison before getting his (second) day in court for the same shooting.

But two years later, Barnes is still in prison. He has been jailed for trivial parole violations of having a cell phone and driving a car without his parole officer’s approval.

Barnes has been repeatedly denied parole for a variety of silly reasons. What a sham. He is now 76, and ailing. He’s no longer a threat to society. Barnes has paid his debt to society.

In their vindictive zeal to make Barnes continue to pay for a crime for which he already served his time, the DA’s office has put its proverbial thumb on the scales of justice.

A federal magistrate judge tried to bring an end to the madness last week by recommending Barnes’s immediate release. U.S. Magistrate Timothy Rice found that Barnes has endured a “shocking pattern of arbitrary and irrational expectations, requirements and parole denials.”

Judge Rice’s findings are a clear rebuke for the heavy-handed tactics of the DA’s office. Rice’s recommendation now goes to U.S. District Judge James Knoll Gardner who will decide if Barnes should be released.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office can file objections to the findings. The prosecutors should stop wasting its time and our tax dollars, and free Willie.

The bottom line is this: Philadelphia prosecutors have trampled on Barnes’s civil rights and undermined their authority to uphold the law and ensure justice. In doing so, the DA’s office has made a martyr out of a monster, leaving some to wonder who the real bad guys are.