Sunday, December 21, 2008

A perverted sense of justice

About 42 years ago, Bill Barnes committed a crime - a nasty, heinous crime that left a young man critically wounded. Walter Barclay, a 23-year old rookie in the Philly police department, was paralyzed after being sprayed with gunfire from Barnes' weapon during an armed robbery.

As a result of the crimes he committed, Barnes was tried and convicted of attempted murder and related crimes. He received a sentence of 10 - 20 years; there are various and inconsistent reports of how long Barnes actually served, it seems as though he spent at least 12 years in jail for this crime. A career criminal, Barnes spent most of his adult life in jail but eventually got a real job and started speaking to various groups about the many mistakes he made in his life.

Barclay spent most of the year after the shooting in rehab. His condition improved over time and he eventually regained some use of his legs that enabled him to walk a little with the use of leg braces and ride a stationary bike for a bit. Barclay's goal was to gain some sense of normalcy and independence

"The main thing for my brother after he got shot was to be independent," said his sister, Rosalyn Harrison. "He did everything for himself: He cooked, he cleaned, he shopped. None of us were allowed to do anything."

He was thrilled when buddies outfitted his car with special hand controls so he could drive.

"That was his freedom," his sister said. USA Today

That freedom came with it's own complications as Barclay reinjured his spine in 2 car accidents

“The guy started spraying bullets around, and I caught two of them in the back,” Mr. Barclay said in a 1978 interview about the night he was shot. “I got over that pretty much, but then I had a car accident and hurt my back again. Then I had another and hurt my back some more.” NYT

As he aged, Barclay's health deteriorated. At some point in time, he developed hepatitis. By the time he was in his 50s he was bedridden and eventually needed a feeding tube for nutrition. He also had a foley catheter inserted to collect urine. Like many people fitted with a foley, Barclay developed a urinary tract infection (UTI) complications of which resulted in his death a mere 40 years after the shooting.

The Medical Examiner initially ruled the cause of death was natural causes, after prodding to reexamine the case, he ruled it a homicide. Despite having already been tried, convicted and served his sentence for the attempted murder of Barclay, Barnes was charged with the murder of Barclay in 2007. He has not been tried for the murder and has remained in jail since his arrest for that charge. According to a letter in this morning's Inky, Barnes was told he'd be tried last Fall and yet no trial date has been set.

This is not justice. The murder charge & Barnes' continued incarceration are nothing but retribution. There are so many mitigating factors, significant ones which are iatrogenic in nature, in the decline of Barclay's health that calling his death by UTI a homicide is nothing but a sick joke. The chain of events that DA Lynne Abraham uses to justify the charge is so long that no rational human being can rightly say it serves any legitimate purpose, let alone the cost to taxpayers. The case would be considered a stretch even if Mr. Barnes had not already faced trial and served time for this shooting under a different/lesser charge of attempted murder.

There is no statute of limitations on murder. If this were truly a case where it was necessary and appropriate to charge Mr. Barnes with murder, the DA's office should have waited patiently for Barclay to die so they could try Barnes on the more serious charge at a later date. Justice would not have been served by waiting 40+ years to charge him with murder, just as it is not served in charging him now. Based on the facts of the case, one can only surmise that the reason Mr. Barnes sits in jail now, waiting for trial, is because the DA's office is acutely aware they are unlikely to get a conviction in this case and they just want to be able to exact revenge because the person he shot was a police officer. I understand the desire of Mr. Barclay's friends and family to further punish Barnes, but the Lynne Abraham's actions in the matter are illogical, petty, vindictive and downright unjust.


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