William Barnes Acquitted of a 41-Year-Old Crime

Who killed Walter Barclay? According to a May 21 jury decision, it was not William Barnes.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in November 1966, then-police officer Barclay was responding to reports of a prowler when he found Barnes attempting to burglarize a Philadelphia beauty salon. Barnes shot Barclay, was convicted of attempted murder, served 16 years, and was released on parole. Barclay survived, but was paralyzed from the waist down.


Since serving his time, Barnes tried to make up for his criminal record. He was living in a halfway house and worked in a supermarket. He also gave lectures at Temple University and Eastern State Penitentiary about his desire to turn his life around.

But when Walter Barclay died of a urinary tract infection that medical examiners claimed was directly related to the original shooting, 41 year after the fact, Barnes was arrested and put on trial for the murder of Walter Barclay.

The prosecution argued that the death was directly due to the shooting. The urinary tract infection was due to Barclay’s paraplegia, which was in turn due to the shooting.

Defense attorney William Silvers, however, argued that the chain of causation between the original shooting and Barclay’s eventual death had been broken by several events. According to a May 20 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Silver cited to an extensive medical record that included three car crashes and two wheelchair falls post-shooting. According to a note written by Barclay before his death, one of the car crashes compounded his spinal injuries.

Barclay had also not been living in the best of conditions, as noted in a more recent Philadelphia Inquirer article. He had hired live-in caretakers who so neglected and malnourished him that he developed scurvy and drug-resistant bedsores. Barclay lived in unacceptable conditions and was repeatedly hospitalized until 2003 when he died of sepsis from a urinary tract infection in a Bucks County nursing home.

The prosecution noted that these events would not have happened had Barclay not been paraplegic, and therefore Barnes was still the cause of Barclay’s death.

The most notable event of the trial itself was Silvers’ sense of timing. He opened and closed the defense’s case in ten minutes, and Barnes himself never took the stand. The judge asked Barnes if Silvers had discussed this particular strategy with him. Barnes replied in the affirmative, and said that he was fine with it. Silvers believed that he had done enough damage to the prosecution’s case by relying on the medical record of Barclay.

The jury agreed. William Barnes was acquitted of murder charges for the death of Walter Barclay. However, it could be up to four years before Barnes is released because he violated his parole agreement.


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