Murder trial ordered in officer's death

February 27, 2008 2:57:10 PM PST
A man who shot a police officer four decades ago must stand trial on a murder charge filed last year, soon after the officer's death, a judge ruled Wednesday. William Barnes, 71, already served 15 years in prison for shooting rookie officer Walter T. Barclay in 1966.

Barclay was left paralyzed from the waist down and later endured years of recurrent infections, bedsores and pneumonia. When he died in August at age 64, a medical examiner ruled that an infection linked to the 41-year-old gunshot wounds caused Barclay's death.

Municipal Judge Bradley Moss ordered Barnes to remain behind bars until his trial, which he scheduled for March 19.

Moss acknowledged that he found no other case in which a murder charge was filed so many years after the initial injury. Still, he cited courts elsewhere that ruled there was no time limit if an unbroken chain of events can be shown from the initial injury to death.

Assistant District Attorney Ed Cameron said that chain was unmistakable, with Barclay's body progressively weakening and his infections becoming more frequent and tougher to treat until his death in a Bucks County nursing home.

"It's a common course of events with paralysis," Philadelphia deputy medical examiner Dr. Ian Hood testified.

Public defender Bobby Hoof suggested that other factors contributed to Barclay's death. After being paralyzed, Barclay suffered from hepatitis and bipolar disorder, was a longtime smoker, was hurt in 1968 and 1985 car accidents and was injured in a fall out of his wheelchair in 1975, Hoof said.

He also questioned how an unbroken chain could be proven since Barclay's medical records from 1966 to 1977 have not been found, and how the death could be ruled a homicide without an autopsy and without medical records before 2003 being reviewed.

"Without an autopsy, you cannot rule out strangulation, poisoning, drugs or even suicide," Hoof said.

The medical examiner disagreed. Hood said after viewing the newer records and consulting with the coroner in Bucks County he was certain the officer succumbed to a urinary infection stemming from complications of the shooting.

The hospital where Barclay died initially said it was from natural causes, but Hood said it is not unusual for rulings to change.

Barclay's partner, retired police Lt. Robert Piatek, testified that they discovered Barnes trying to break into a building with a crowbar in November 1966. He fired at them both but only struck Barclay, Piatek testified.

"He said, 'I can't move,"' Piatek said. "There was some hysteria involved, as you can imagine."

Retired police officer Herbert Braun testified that a fleeing Barnes shot at him in his police cruiser, not far from where Barclay lay paralyzed. Braun said he would have "either been badly wounded or dead" if he hadn't had time to duck.

Barnes was arrested three days later.

A local television reporter, Walt Hunter, also was called to testify about a jailhouse interview with Barnes. Barnes "said to me that he had killed a Philadelphia police officer and that was the most shameful thing he could ever do," Hunter said. Hunter also testified about a series of reports with Barclay in the early 1990s about his medical and financial problems.

Judge Moss ordered Barnes to remain in prison until trial and agreed to recommend his transfer to Graterford state prison so that he could receive care for heart problems. Barnes has had two heart attacks, and his attorney said he is in fragile health.

Barnes spent most of his life in prison but was living in a halfway house and holding down a job at a supermarket before his August arrest.

He also had been lecturing at Temple University and at Eastern State Penitentiary, now a museum, about his remorse for his criminal past. He said he was committed to finally turning his life around.