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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Murder At 66....

William J. Barnes shot and partly paralyzed a Philadelphia police officer in 1966, and he served 20 years for it and related offenses.

Rosalyn Barclay Harrison at the August funeral of her brother Walter T. Barclay Jr., a former police officer who died of an infection that a prosecutor said stemmed from being shot in 1966.

But last month, 41 years after the shooting, the district attorney filed new charges of murder after the officer, Walter T. Barclay Jr., died of an infection she says stems from the shooting. Mr. Barnes, now 71, was sent back to prison.

“The law is that when you set in motion a chain of events,” District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said, “a perpetrator of a crime is responsible for every single thing that flows from that chain of events, no matter how distant, as long as we can prove the chain is unbroken.”

She plans to prove that the bullet that lodged near Mr. Barclay’s spine in 1966 led to the urinary tract infection that led to his death last month.

The case has drawn national attention as most legal experts say they have never seen an attempt to stretch causation medically across four decades, and some say they worry about the precedent the case could set concerning double jeopardy.

Moreover, establishing an unbroken chain could be difficult in light of Mr. Barclay’s medical history.

After his initial paralysis, his condition improved significantly After his initial paralysis, his condition improved significantly and he regained motion in his legs, walking with braces and riding short distances on a stationary bicycle. But he reinjured his spine repeatedly, in two car accidents and in a fall from his wheelchair, according to interviews with relatives and news reports from the era.

While paralyzed, Mr. Barclay also contracted hepatitis, according to his family, which medical experts say could have weakened his ability later to fight off infections. The district attorney’s office has also confirmed that although the coroner’s office ruled his death a homicide, no autopsy was done on Mr. Barclay, who was buried last month.

Mr. Barclay himself even spoke of the role his own actions played in worsening his medical condition.

“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.”

Allen M. Hornblum, an urban studies professor at Temple University who researched Mr. Barclay’s history and invited Mr. Barnes to speak to his class about having turned his life around after a career in crime, said the new charges were “vindictive, pure and simple.”

“Barnes served his time, but the police and the city want him to pay extra because he shot one of their own,” he said, adding that even if the charge is dismissed, the case will probably take so long to get to that stage that Mr. Barnes, who has had two heart attacks in the last three years, will die waiting. Ms. Abraham has denied that the victim’s being a police officer played any role in her decision to file new charges.

Ms. Abraham also argues that double jeopardy, which means a person cannot be charged twice for the same crime, does not apply in this case because the original crime was aggravated assault and the current crime — now that Mr. Barclay is dead — is murder. Mr. Barnes’s court-appointed lawyer has not decided whether to challenge that view.

William Barclay, 59, the slain officer’s brother, feels the prosecution is justified. “Barnes deserves to be back in prison,” he said “He is 71, and that’s seven more years of life than my brother had.”

“This was murder delayed,” Mr. Barclay added, recounting his brother’s bouts of pneumonia, painful and constant bedsores and the full-body muscle spasms that threw him from bed. “The length of time since the shooting shouldn’t matter.”

Asked about the car accidents, Mr. Barclay, who has lived in California since the 1970s, said he was not aware of them.

Mr. Barnes is being held without bond, and he will not see a judge until his first court date in December, said his lawyer, Bobby Hoof.

In many states, the year-and-a-day rule, a 19th-century common law rule, prevents new charges from being filed if a victim dies more than 366 days after the initial injury. But Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, an independent monthly, said that as medical advancements have prolonged the lives of injured people, at least 20 states, including Pennsylvania, have eliminated the rule. Medical and forensic advancements, however, have also increased the burden of proof on prosecutors to clearly show how an injury led directly to a victim’s later death, he said.
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