PHILADELPHIA – PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 74-year-old man who shot a police officer during a botched burglary in 1966 was acquitted Monday of murder and other charges filed after the officer's death in 2007.
The jury reached its verdict after beginning deliberations late Friday afternoon following the weeklong murder trial of William J. Barnes, who served 16 years for the attempted murder of Officer Walter T. Barclay.
The jury had to determine whether the shooting that left the officer paralyzed from the waist down was the direct cause of his death 41 years later from a urinary tract infection.
When the verdict was announced, Barnes put a hand to his head, covered his eyes and wept. His niece, Diane Barnes, exclaimed "Yes!" As the jury left the room, William Barnes said, "Thank you all so much."
Barclay's crying sister, Rosalyn Harrison, blurted out, "You bastard," as she left the courtroom with Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby.
"Get me away from this place," she said before being ushered into a police car outside the courthouse.
Defense attorney Samuel Silver said that ruling the cause of death as homicide was a faulty "rush to judgment" made without looking at any medical records or conducting an autopsy. He presented medical records suggesting Barclay was further injured in three car accidents and two falls from his wheelchair over the intervening decades and his downward spiral stemmed from abuse by live-in caretakers from 2001 to 2003.
Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron said the injury that Barnes inflicted set in motion an unbroken chain of events that ended in death. He said the officer's illnesses, accidents and falls over the years wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been paralyzed by Barclay's gunshot.
After the verdict, District Attorney Seth Williams reiterated the contention that Barnes, who didn't testify on his own behalf, was responsible for the officer's death.
"The bullet may not have immediately killed him, but it definitely took away his life," Williams said in a statement.
He praised the work of the prosecutors, saying the case was difficult to prosecute "technically and emotionally."
Silver said it was unclear when his client would be released from prison because he had a pair of parole violations at the time of his 2007 arrest.
Barnes' brother, Jimmy Barnes, said he hoped his brother would be released within a year.
"My brother's been through enough," he said. "He shouldn't have even been on trial."
McNesby, the police organization president, called the verdict "unfortunate" and said the organization would petition the parole board to require Barnes to serve all his time for his parole violations, which could amount to as much as four years.
Barclay was a 23-year-old rookie responding to a report of a prowler when Barnes, a 30-year-old with a long criminal history, gunned him down on Nov. 27, 1966.
The paralyzed officer endured years of infections and bedsores. When he died in August 2007 at age 64, a medical examiner determined that an infection linked to the gunshot wounds caused his death and ruled it a homicide.
Barnes, who had spent most of his life in prison, was living in a halfway house and working at a supermarket at the time of his arrest. He also was lecturing at Temple University and Eastern State Penitentiary, now a museum, about his life of crime and his desire to turn his life around.