William Barnes, the 75-year-old man who had served nearly two years in prison after being found not guilty of killing a Philadelphia police officer, was released from Graterford Prison on Friday afternoon, a day after he learned his parole was granted.
Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole Assistant Director Leo Dunn said Barnes was released from prison just before 12:30 p.m.
As a lifelong friend drove him back to Philadelphia from the prison, Barnes spoke to his brother Jimmy from the car.
“He’s jubilant, excited to be able to see his family outside of a jail setting,” Jimmy said of the conversation. “He’s also a little nervous, has a lot to do now to pick up his life. He’ll probably wake up at 5 a.m. because that’s when they got up for [prisoner] count at Graterford. But, there are no more dark clouds, or ghosts in the shadows, just waiting to pounce on him.”
The release came after a day of celebration for Barnes, his family and his legal team.
“We’re very pleased and glad to see that the [Parole] Board made this decision. We fought hard for this because it was important to do, and it was the right thing to do,” attorney Sam Silver said Thursday afternoon.
Barnes, who was also known as the East Germantown Cowboy, shot rookie police Officer Walter Barclay when Barclay responded to a burglary in progress at an East Oak Lane beauty salon in 1966.
The shots didn’t not kill Barclay, but left him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Barnes served 16 years of a sentence for aggravated assault. However, when Barclay died in 2007, then-District Attorney Lynne Abraham had Barnes arrested and charged with homicide.
Technical parole violations
Three years later, a jury found Barnes not guilty on those charges, but he has remained in prison. This is due to the fact that he was found to be in possession of car keys and a cell phone when he was arrested at a Roxborough supermarket.
Those items constituted technical parole violations, and the basis of a heated battle between attorneys for the commonwealth and Barnes in recent months. It reached the federal courthouse, where a magistrate judge declared Barnes “should be released immediately.”
“I’m just so happy,” said Barnes’ niece Diane. “It’s been a long road, but he’s free at last. Billy’s probably so ecstatic about the news.”
The District Attorney’s Office declined to say anything about the Parole Board’s decision.
The Parole Board’s decision (PDF), dated Feb. 29, lists “participation in and completion of prescribed institutional programs, positive institutional behavior, positive recommendation made by the Department of Corrections and acceptance of responsibility for the offense(s) committed” as reasons for release.
Barnes will remain on parole likely for the rest of his life, his brother said.