Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wecht and Baden Face-Off in 41 Year-Old Murder

Walter Barclay was a 23 year-old Philadelphia police officer in 1966. On a late November night, he was responding to a burglary call when he was shot by William J. Barnes. Barclay was left paralyzed from the waste down. Barnes ended up in prison and wasn't released until 2005.

A tragic story of two men. One left to live his life in a wheelchair the other left to live nearly his entire adult life behind bars. The case took an unusual twist in 2007. While Barnes was living in a halfway house, Barclay died. The coroner determined that Barclay's death was a direct result of his 41 year-old wounds.

The Philadelphia district attorney's office decided to charge Barnes with murder. The new charges are not bared by the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. or state constitution. He was convicted of attempted murder and assault. The new charge is murder. The "year and a day rule," which required that charges of murder must be brought within 366 days of the initial assault, has long been an obsolete legal relic in Pennsylvania.

The trial is scheduled for May. The charges have garnered national interest and it looks like the trial will do the same. The experts who will testify at trial sound like a who's who of Nancy Grace's guest list. The defense will call Cyril H. Wecht, the former coroner from Pittsburgh. Wecht has worked on the assassination of JFK as well as examined the deaths of Elvis Presley, JonBenet Ramsey, and Vincent Foster.

The Commonwealth intends to call Michael Baden from New York. Baden is the star of the HBO series Autopsy and an expert for the congressional probes of the murders of President Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the judge presiding over the trial has focused much of the preparation for trial on the superstar experts. "This is a real duel of experts. That's what it's all about," Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes told prosecution and defense attorneys during a recent pretrial hearing. "We don't need days and days of testimony," Hughes said. "We just need to set the stage for the experts."

The trial will not be televised because Pennsylvania law prohibits cameras in the courtroom. However, absent a gag order there will be a press conference before, after and if possible while the testimony unfolds. Wecht and Baden have never been known to shy away from a camera.

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