Judge: Man cleared of murder deserves freedom

February 7, 2012 - 7:45 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday recommended the release of an elderly man who remains in prison nearly two years after his acquittal on murder charges in the 2007 death of a police officer he shot decades earlier.

In a report recommending the immediate release of William Barnes, U.S. Magistrate Timothy Rice said that Barnes has endured "a shocking pattern of arbitrary and irrational expectations, requirements, and parole denials."

Rice's report and recommendation now goes to U.S. District Judge James Knoll Gardner in Allentown, who will make rule on Barnes' release. It's unclear when that will occur.

Barnes, 76, has been incarcerated since the August 2007 death of police Officer Walter Barclay, whom Barnes shot and paralyzed in 1966 during a botched burglary.

Barnes had served 16 years for shooting Barclay but was charged with murder after the officer died at age 64. Prosecutors said Barnes' actions caused Barclay to suffer decades of infections, bedsores and other ailments that ultimately caused his death.

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

Barnes' attorneys said at a hearing before Rice last week that Barnes' continued imprisonment was a vindictive effort by authorities to have him die in prison and a violation of his constitutional right to due process.

"Judge Rice obviously did a very thorough analysis of the record," defense attorney Sam Silver said. "The result is very gratifying and we're thrilled."

U.S. Attorney Barry Kramer told Rice last week that the case is a matter for courts on the state, not federal, level and the parole board followed all proper procedures when determining whether to deny Barnes parole.

Prosecutors have two weeks to file any objections to the report. Kramer did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.