Lawyer: Prosecutor’s ‘hostile’ letters improperly swayed Parole Board in Barnes case

Attorneys for a 75-year-old man still imprisoned on parole violations despite being found not guilty of killing a Philadelphia police officer say the prosecutor in the case went out of his way to prod the state Board of Probation and Parole to keep the man behind bars.

A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said letters that the assistant district attorney  in the case wrote opposing William Barnes’s parole speak for themselves.

The parole board and the state Attorney General’s office declined comment on the latest twist in the case.

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Barnes remains imprisoned at SCI Graterford today on technical parole violations because he was found with a cell phone and car keys in his possession while working as a custodian at the ShopRite in Roxborough when he was re-arrested after Police Officer Walter Barclay’s death.  Barclay died 41 years after being shot in a botched robbery attempt.

“Despite his advanced aged (sic), Mr. Barnes’ extensive criminal record suggests that he has always been, and will always be a threat to our community. If one were to go to a dictionary and look up the term ‘career criminal,’ you would see Barnes’ picture,” ADA Edward Cameron wrote a year before Barnes went on trial for Barclay’s murder.

In a post-trial follow-up letter to the state Board of Probation and Parole, Cameron noted, “Barnes’ claim that minor infractions like cell phone possession and ownership of a car do not warrant a parole violation reflect his true attitude. In effect, he is saying to you, I do not have to follow your rules.”

Unduly affected decisions?

The 54-page brief filed in federal court on Wednesday maintains, among other things, that Cameron’s “unsupported and hostile” letters unduly affected the decisions of a Parole Board that had paroled him several times in the past.

“Before 2009, no prosecutor objected to Mr. Barnes’s requests for parole,” reads the brief prepared by defense attorney Sam Silver and others. “Yet, after Mr. Barnes insisted on going to trial and challenging the homicide charges against him, and even more so after he obtained a jury verdict in his favor, input was offered from the prosecutor who lost the homicide case, and this eventually became the overriding factor driving the Board’s last three decisions denying Mr. Barnes parole.

“In such circumstances, the Parole Board’s decisions denying Mr. Barnes parole are entirely irrational and arbitrary, and shock the conscience.”

The brief will be the focus of a Jan. 31 hearing at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia at which Barnes will appear via videoconferencing.   There, Barnes’ attorneys will seek his immediate release from prison.

“The Board has no intention of ever giving Mr. Barnes the fair hearing to which he is entitled under the Constitution,” it states. “Rather, the Board will simply continue to play its shell game, changing the rules and standards governing Mr. Barnes’s requests for parole every time he is considered.”

Silver also maintains that Barnes has been incarcerated “for 52 months and counting” on parole violations normally worth a six-month stint because of a concerted effort to punish him for a crime of which he was found not guilty.

“It is our view that [Barnes] should spend the rest of his life in prison,” wrote Cameron in a Nov. 2010 letter to which he attached “an autopsy picture showing [Barclay’s] bed sores and withered legs.”

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