Man cleared of murder in '66 shooting gets parole

An elderly man has been granted parole nearly two years after his acquittal on murder charges filed after a Philadelphia police officer he shot in 1966 died in 2007, his attorney said Thursday.

William Barnes, 75, has been incarcerated since the August 2007 death of Officer Walter Barclay, whom Barnes shot and paralyzed 41 years earlier during a botched burglary. Barnes had served 16 years for shooting Barclay but was arrested and charged with murder after the officer died.

Although a jury acquitted Barnes in May 2010, he has remained in prison for having a cellphone and car keys without his parole officer's approval at the time of his 2007 arrest. He was given six months for those technical violations but had since been repeatedly denied parole.

The parole board interviewed Barnes at Graterford State Prison this week and filed paperwork on Wednesday approving his release, his attorney Sam Silver said.

"We're pleased that the board has made what we believe is very much the correct decision," Silver said. It hasn't yet been made clear when Barnes would be released but Silver surmised it "will be a matter of days, not weeks or months."

At a hearing before a federal magistrate in January, Silver argued that his client was denied parole four times — twice since his acquittal — based on constantly shifting requirements for parole, unexplained reversals of prior assessments about his contrition and threat to society, and over-reliance on inflammatory correspondence from the assistant district attorney who lost at trial and wanted the parole board to undo the jury's verdict.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice issued a report the next week concluding that Barnes has endured "a shocking pattern of arbitrary and irrational expectations, requirements, and parole denials" and should be released immediately.

Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, declined to comment Thursday on the parole board's decision.

Barclay was a 23-year-old rookie investigating a report of a prowler when Barnes, then a 30-year-old petty criminal with a long record, shot him on Nov. 27, 1966. Paralyzed from the waist down, Barclay suffered from decades of infections, bedsores and other ailments before dying at age 64 of complications from a urinary tract infection.

In charging Barnes with murder, prosecutors argued that his actions directly caused Barclay's death four decades later. A jury sided with Barnes' lawyers, who said Barclay suffered from falls, car accidents and caretaker abuse over the years that contributed to his demise.

Barnes spent much of his life in prison, largely for robbery, theft and escape, but was paroled in April 2007. When he was re-arrested after Barclay died four months later, Barnes was living in a halfway house and working as a supermarket janitor. He also was lecturing at Temple University and Eastern State Penitentiary, now a museum, where he once served time.