After a week-long trial, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP successfully obtained a full acquittal on murder charges brought against the firm’s pro bono client William J. Barnes. Barnes was charged with causing the death of Philadelphia Police Officer Walter T. Barclay in 2007, 41 years after Barnes had shot and partially paralyzed Barclay.
Schnader took the matter on a pro bono basis and committed significant resources to fighting the charges and ensuring that Barnes mounted the best defense possible. Led by attorneys Sam Silver, Bruce Merenstein, and Nilam Sanghvi, the Schnader team also included attorneys Joseph Anclien, Leah Snyder Batchis, Chris Haaf, Jeremy Hekhuis, Kate Kleba, Julie Randolph, Paul Safier, and Emily Tetzlaff, and paralegals Adrienne Horn and Barbara Schramm. The unusual case involved numerous complex medical issues and required the Schnader team to investigate, locate, and review thousands of medical records from dozens of health care providers. The Schnader lawyers were able to track down medical providers who had treated Barclay decades earlier, as well as key medical records, that the prosecution had failed to uncover.
The case began in 2007, shortly after Barclay died at the age of 64, when Barnes was arrested and charged with Barclay’s murder, based on Barnes’s conduct more than four decades earlier. The prosecution alleged that the 1966 shooting that left Barclay partially paralyzed could be directly linked to the urinary tract infection and subsequent sepsis that ultimately caused his death many years later.
Schnader attorneys never disputed that Barnes shot and seriously injured Barclay. However, in the time since the shooting, Barclay had been involved in three auto accidents and two wheelchair accidents, which had a significant impact on his overall physical condition, including his urologic functioning. Barclay also experienced significant neglect and abuse from 2001 to 2003 at the hands of his live-in caregivers. During that time, the caregivers kept Barclay confined in his room, underfed him to the point that he developed scurvy, and left him unwashed and sitting in his own waste. As a result of that treatment, Barclay contracted numerous bedsores and experienced a substantial downturn in his overall health. Because of the passage of 41 years and the significant events that occurred between the time of the shooting and Barclay’s death, the Schnader lawyers argued that there was no "unbreakable chain" of causation linking the gunshot to the fatal infection that took Barclay’s life.
The jury was charged with determining whether the gunshot could be linked to Barclay’s death. If found guilty of first or second degree murder, Barnes would have faced an automatic life sentence. After six hours of deliberations over two days, the jury acquitted Barnes of all charges.
Barnes currently remains incarcerated on a technical parole violation for being in possession of a cell phone and car keys at the time he was picked up and charged with Barclay’s murder. He has now served close to three years in prison for this technical violation. The Schnader team continues to represent Barnes and is working to obtain his release, so that the jury’s verdict is not thwarted.
The case was covered widely in the media, with stories and editorials appearing in the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, National Law Journal, and Associated Press. The Philadelphia Inquirer also offered an editorial several days after the verdict noting that “the jury reached a swift and proper verdict in acquitting William J. Barnes,” and calling for the parole board to release Barnes promptly from prison.
The Barnes case was also discussed at length on The Michael Smerconish Show, a nationally syndicated news and talk show on Philadelphia's CBS Radio affiliate, 1210 AM WPHT, on May 25. Sam Silver visited the show to talk about the case and to respond to callers' questions. His discussion on the show can be heard by clicking on the following links:
Schnader's Sam Silver Discusses Barnes Case on The Michael Smerconish Show, Part 1
Schnader's Sam Silver Discusses Barnes Case on The Michael Smerconish Show, Part 2