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The Boogeyman Of Roland Park

How Kenneth Barnes Became The Sno-Ball Stand Sex Offender

Barnes childhood photographs, courtesy his mother Patricia.
Frank Klein
Barnes' mother holding a more recent photograph of Barnes
Frank Klein
Barnes' Attorney Flynn Owens
Barnes' page on the online Maryland Sex Offender Registry
Frank Klein
Barnes' mother Patricia, who asked that her last name not be used in this story.

By Chris Landers | Posted 8/8/2007

Kenneth Barnes makes a poor witness for himself.

When he takes the stand in a Baltimore City courtroom in July, his body swims in a large blue Department of Corrections smock, and his dyed-blond Andy Warhol-meets-Prince Valiant bowl cut frames an acne-scarred face. The issue to be decided is whether Barnes' 1998 guilty plea to a third-degree sex offense should be vacated. But Barnes, who is mentally ill, refuses to stick to the subject.

"I didn't do the charge in the first place," the 45-year-old tells the judge, "and the court in the state of Maryland has ignored that with a blind eye. You're all going to drive your cars home at night safely and have safe families. You're going to have to open your eyes and judge me properly."

He veers away from answering the questions of prosecuting state's attorney Temmi Rollock, at one point telling her, "You know what? I find you in contempt. I didn't do these things, and you're just sitting there, wide-eyed and blind."

He keeps repeating, "I didn't do the charge," as Rollock's objections to his nonresponsive answers mount. After another outburst from Barnes, Judge Althea Handy scolds him softly: "This isn't really why we're here."

"I know that," he says, "but the court has ignored the actual fact that the whole thing is based on false information and you're suggesting that we continue. But the whole foundation of this thing should just fall out right from under me, and I should be released. I didn't do it. The court has ignored all that from the beginning. Some good judge, somewhere along the line, is going to say, `All right, Mr. Barnes. I can see you're telling the truth--'"

Handy interrupts him: "Well, perhaps that will happen, sir, but this isn't the time that's going to happen."

Barnes' attorney, Flynn Owens, was afraid of this. He was reluctant to even put Barnes on the stand but felt it was necessary. Barnes' stubbornness has gotten him in trouble before.

Before the hearing, Owens said he expected the case to be an “uphill battle.” Should the original plea be vacated, the state will decide whether to re-prosecute Barnes (Rollock declined to comment on the case for this article), and then the real work will begin--sifting through the court records that remain of a case that has all but vanished, a case that no one wants to talk about. Whatever Handy’s decision, Owens says the case will likely go to appeals court, where, once again, he will try to convince a judge to look past Barnes' appearance, his manner, and his guilty plea.

Owens was retained by Barnes in 2007, to defend him on charges of violating his parole, which is why Barnes is currently locked up in Jessup. As he looked at the case, Owens says, he became interested in a technical issue in Barnes' original case.

In 1998, Barnes pleaded guilty to sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl. It was an Alford plea, meaning that while Barnes maintained his innocence, it was believed that the state had enough evidence to convict him at a trial. Barnes' mother (and court-appointed guardian since 1997) says that the plea was agreed to during a 15-minute meeting with Barnes' then-attorney, Warren Brown, as the trial deadline loomed. Under the terms of the plea, Barnes, who was originally charged with second-degree rape and second- and third-degree sex offenses, had the more serious charges dropped and received no jail time. But his name, picture, and current address went up on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry, available online here.

Barnes and his family say that if they had known that he would be branded a sex offender for life, they never would have gone along with the plea. Brown did not return several phone messages left with his secretary but has signed an affidavit that Barnes was not informed about the registry requirements of his plea.

The registry, more than the original offense, is why Barnes is in jail today. In August 2005, he pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to register his address with the state. He was released with a suspended sentence and ordered to live with his mother. A few months later, he was charged with violating his parole by maintaining a separate address and remained in jail until March of this year, when he was again released.

In May of this year, Barnes was found to have violated "Rule 8" of his parole, by "constituting a threat to others." According to Lydia Fitzsimmons, the owner of the Tropicool Italian ice stand on Falls Road, who wrote a letter to the parole board asking them to incarcerate Barnes, he lingered on the deck of the business before and after ordering and purchasing an ice, then sat in his car parked in the lot "watching the children come and go." She found him "weird." After being told by another customer that Barnes was on the sex-offender registry, Fitzsimmons called the police.

Parole officials have said that Barnes was in a "pre-contemplative state of re-offending." Barnes' lawyer puts it differently.

"There is a man right now," Owens says, "not in the People's Republic of China, not in . . . Iran--in Maryland--who is in prison for a thought crime."


Public opinion runs hot over the Barnes case. Earlier this year, the Maryland Parole Commission received what it says is an unprecedented number of letters from parents, teachers, and concerned citizens of North Baltimore, asking them to return Barnes to jail. The one that begins "You stupid, Maryland, liberal ass-holes should've never let this scum-bag out of prison in the first place!" is atypical. Most express concern for the children of the area; some reference larger concerns. A parent and teacher at a private school in Cross Keys writes, "I see children's innocence being taken away little by little everyday, whether it be by media, television, music or magazines. Unfortunatly [sic], we do not have the power to protect them from such immoral forces. However, we do have the responsibility to protect them from predators such as Kenneth Barnes. . . . I believe it is a legal and moral responsibility to our children, their safety and innocence."

News accounts from TV stations and newspapers have paid a lot of attention to Barnes, fanning the flames. Some accounts have made errors of fact, invariably in favor of portraying Barnes for the worse. A news story from WBAL-TV's web site that came attached to the "liberal ass-holes" letter indicates that Barnes was convicted in 1996 and released from prison in 2005. In fact, he received no jail time for his original offense, which he pleaded guilty to in 1998, and he remained out of trouble with the law until missing his deadline to register a change of address with the state.

Almost every story refers to 2005 charges that he was trespassing on school grounds at Roland Park Elementary and Middle School, offering money to students. None mentions that the charges were not prosecuted, or that the state's witness now says the incident never happened.

Even David Blumberg, chair of the state parole commission, in an interview with City Paper, seems uncertain about Barnes' past. The parole files, he says, contain more information about charges that were dropped than about the charges that stuck. Blumberg, too, believes Barnes had served time for the original offense, and that he had been trespassing at the school.

"He was spending a lot of time in that area," Blumberg contends. "A lot of us go to Eddie's [of Roland Park supermarket], but we don't go to the elementary and middle school," just up Roland Avenue. Asked whether Barnes was at the school, Blumberg replies, "Our report said that he was. You can be on the sidewalk and you're practically in the school."

Kenneth Barnes' records at the parole commission are filed under "Julius J. Barnes," an apparent clerical error that happened sometime after 2005. (Barnes' page on the online sex offender registry also labels him as an "absconder" being sought by police, despite the fact that he's been in jail for several months. ) After checking the file, Blumberg amends his statement: In 1998, Barnes received a 10-year sentence, suspended, with four years probation. He has spent more time in jail for failing to register his new address than for the original offense.

There's a reason Blumberg sounds familiar with the relative location of the school and supermarket in Roland Park. In 2005, when Barnes' presence in Roland Park first caused a public outcry, Blumberg was the head of the Roland Park Civic League and otherwise active in the community. When he left his post as president of the neighborhood association later that year, he described his work for the civic league to the Roland Park News newsletter. "People in Roland Park expect that we will be able to produce for them," Blumberg told the writer. "Most people in this community want the same thing. People want us to preserve the community it the way it is. So many people take pride in the community. In Roland Park, I feel like I am playing on the home team."


Barnes has few defenders, and those he has are reluctant to speak out. Flynn Owens, Barnes' attorney, says colleagues have told him that the case could damage his reputation. Barnes' mother, Patricia, asked that her last name not be used in this article. She is a psychotherapist who has worked for years with abused children, and she fears that she would lose her practice if her connection with her son became public. Barnes himself is unable to receive visitors in jail, a punishment for refusing to take a urine test.

"He's not receiving treatment," his mother says. "He's not on medication. I don't know if Kenny's mental state will deteriorate beyond being able to come back."

Patricia has maintained her son's innocence since he was first accused in 1996. "Neither one of us had any experience at all," she says of the accusation and the subsequent plea. "My son never had any more than a traffic ticket. This case is about so many things--people automatically believing you're guilty if you take a plea. It's about this crime being the worst crime that anybody can be accused of."

According to his medical records, Barnes has suffered from mental illness since his mid-20s. He grew up in Mount Washington where he attended city schools. An above-average student as a child, with an aptitude for science, he had completed about two years of college at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University before dropping out for lack of money. A two-year electronics trade school got him a job as a senior technician assembling spacecraft for Westinghouse, but he was laid off. He worked various menial jobs before joining the Army in 1992. Patricia says she was hopeful when her son enlisted--he enjoyed it, and it gave him the structure he needed.

In 1991, however, he spent almost a month as a psychiatric inpatient at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville, where he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Between February and April 1992, he was re-evaluated at the Southwestern Community Mental Health Center in Catonsville, where his treatment records describe him as "having loose associations, rambling speech, illogically philosophizing, and [a preoccupation] with the year `one zillion.'" On April 13, 1992, the day after his last visit to the mental-health center, Barnes reported for induction into the Army.

In September 1992, Barnes was home again. He believed he was on convalescent leave for a back injury suffered during training, but the Army disagreed and labeled him absent without leave. When he reported for duty again in February 1993, he was without a uniform, and when an officer ordered him to buy a new one, he refused. (Patricia says her son's uniform was stolen, and he believed the cost of a new uniform was unfair.) Barnes was found guilty of insubordination and being absent without leave in April 1993.

After a psychiatric evaluation by the Army, the charges were dropped, and in 1996 Barnes was given an honorable discharge due to a disability. Since then, his income has come from Veterans Administration benefits. In September 1994, Barnes was again evaluated at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington. His doctor described him as friendly, but Barnes was confused, went off on tangents, and invented words. He believed he had "a defensive force field strong enough for Armageddon" and was able to speak in tongues. The doctor asked him for his interpretation of the proverb "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Barnes responded, "Life is sensitive . . . people can be like glass . . . people can break."


Barnes' father died when he was 6, and his mother has since remarried. She grew up in Waverly, her husband is from Dundalk. They like to compare notes on who grew up in the tougher area. When Ken Barnes moved into a house on Norris Street in Southwest Baltimore's Mount Clare neighborhood in 1995, Patricia thought the area was too dangerous for him. "I was afraid something bad was going to happen to him," she says. "I never dreamed how bad it would be."

Barnes, then 34, befriended his new neighbors and began seeing an 18-year-old girl with a history of drug use and prostitution. Patricia says he was naive and believed he could help the girl get off drugs. He told his mother he wanted to marry the girl and opened his house to the girl and her friends. He made Kool-Aid for the neighborhood children, who called him Kenny.

Rumors swirled around the strange new neighbor. In 1996, police investigated an unrelated report of a child being sexually abused in the neighborhood. According to the report from the incident, a boy told a staff member at the Child Advocacy Network that his neighbor--Barnes--would "give him stuff stickers, and money like 20 to 30 dollars because he made good Kool-Aid for everyone in the house." The boy also told a social worker he had witnessed a white male at Kenneth Barnes' home rape a young girl. The social worker informed the police. The police report on the boy's claim is vague: "On the 27th of June this case was unfounded because of lack of evidence," it reads.

That August, police received another call about Barnes. An unnamed citizen reported that Barnes was "taking video shots of `local prostitutes' and some children in the neighborhood." Investigation led police to the 8-year-old sister of Barnes' girlfriend, who told an officer that Barnes had molested her.

Child-abuse investigators were called in to reinterview the girl, and she made a series of allegations--that Barnes had, on separate occasions, tried to kiss her, get on top of her, and tie her up and fondle her. She later recalled a fourth incident, in which she let Barnes into her home, he turned out the lights, and she "stood on top of him and started jumping on him." The girl told investigators that she had been told Barnes was giving out videotapes of himself having sex with another girl, and of two girls having sex. She had not seen the videotapes, she said, but she had seen her sister's 11-year-old friend having sex with Barnes in front of the camera. Asked the 11-year-old's whereabouts by investigators, the girl replied, "She's running the streets, and getting into people's cars, just like" her sister. There is no further mention in the case file of the 11-year-old, or of any sex tapes recovered during the subsequent search of Barnes' home. He was arrested and spent four days in jail before being released on bail.

Because of Barnes' plea, there is much from the original case that did not make it into evidence, and so is not part of the public record. In each incident described by the girl, there were reportedly witnesses--her friends and relatives--present either during or directly after the abuse took place. There is no record of whether these people were contacted, and attempts to reach them for this story were unsuccessful.

Barnes' mother says she met his girlfriend and one of the girls' uncles at Barnes' house after he was charged. She says she was surprised to see them there, but they told her they believed Ken's story and that he was innocent.

A physical examination of the victim showed signs consistent with sexual abuse, but because the report came months after the abuse, there was no evidence to indicate who the abuser was. A video showing the girl (fully clothed, at what Patricia says was a birthday party for Barnes' girlfriend) in Barnes' home was recovered. When the plea bargain was offered to Barnes in 1998, it boiled down to his word against the girl's.

There was another incident that occurred between the time Barnes was charged in 1996 and his plea in '98. Few records remain--the court files have been destroyed as a part of routine housecleaning, so all that remains are the charges, and the fact that the charges were dropped by prosecutors, but the narrative has made its way into the other Barnes files at the city courthouse. They appear without explanation and were brought up by Rollock at the recent hearing.

In March 1997, Barnes had moved a few blocks away after being released on bail. A neighbor called police to report a disturbance involving Barnes and two "young girls." There were no ages listed, although other court records put the girls in their mid-teens. The girls told a police officer that they had been sniffing glue earlier in the day, and that Barnes invited them in to continue.

Barnes, in a letter written to his family shortly afterward, said they were friends of his girlfriend, who stopped by "as usual for a Kool-Aid or soup and TV," and once inside they began using inhalants. Barnes told police, and repeated in his letter, that he asked the girls to leave, and they refused, causing a scene. The girls told police that Barnes propositioned them, then attempted to sexually assault one of them. He was arrested and charged with third- and fourth-degree sex offenses, second-degree assault, and two other charges. He was released, and the court files indicate only that the state declined to prosecute the charges. The neighbor who reported the disturbance has no memory of the incident or of Barnes.

The sister whom Barnes was seeing died several years ago. The girl who accused Barnes began accumulating adult charges of prostitution, drug possession, and assault shortly before her 18th birthday, and is, at this writing, being sought by police for a violation of probation on drug charges. Her last known address, which she shared with her grandmother and other family members in Morrell Park, was vacated earlier this year by court order declaring the home a drug nuisance.

Last year, an investigator hired by Barnes' mother found and interviewed the girl. In a purported transcript of the interview, which could not be verified, the girl repeats the charge that Barnes molested her, but says the abuse was a daily occurrence over a period of five years, a time frame longer than Barnes was present in the neighborhood, and continuing during and after the subsequent trial. Patricia has hired detectives to reinterview the girl, hoping that her story will change. Searching for new information on the old case, they have largely come up empty.

Flynn Owens, Barnes' lawyer, points out that the plea deal was a good one, from a legal standpoint--Barnes walked into the courtroom with serious charges against him, and walked out a free man. After his plea, Barnes served his four years probation without incident, registering his address yearly with the state sex-offender registry. For most of the next eight years, he lived in Baltimore County, but in 2004 moved to an apartment on Cold Spring Lane near Roland Park.


It isn't clear who first noticed Barnes in Roland Park, but news of a sex offender in the affluent neighborhood spread fast. On April 13, 2005, administrators at Roland Park Elementary and Middle School sent home fliers describing Ken Barnes and identifying him as a sex offender. In an e-mail to parents posted on the school's Parent Teacher Association online forum, then-Principal Mariale Hardiman told parents to watch for the flier, and informed them that some students placed Barnes on school grounds, taking pictures of elementary school students.

Response from parents was mixed--one woman, who identified herself on the forum as the "concerned parent of a 6th grade student," suggested contacting the media and the mayor's office. "I still would like to know EXACTLY what the police are going to do about this in details!" she wrote. "I feel he should be brought in for questioning, even if the statements aren't confirmed, it's enough of them being shared that the police should do so. As always, we don't want to be around saying we should have done something else, after the fact, he may try to do something."

Another woman wrote on the forum to report a Barnes sighting in nearby Linkwood Park, suggesting that parents approach Barnes on sight to tell him, "I know about your history as an offender and I want you to stay away from our children." Contacted for this story, she says she now believes the man she saw was not Kenneth Barnes.

One parent took issue with the school's handling of the incident--his third-grade daughter, he wrote, "was clearly distraught and the first words out of her mouth were `There's a sex offender in the school.' On the way home she asked me if the man `tortured children' when he gets them. She told me he had been IN the school. She explained that she had been told about this in the lunch room and she had spent the day extremely frightened. Last night, she had nightmares all night about her and her best friend being abducted from school and being cut by a knife." That parent, responding to questions for this story, wrote in an e-mail, "The impression we were given is that he was indeed hanging out near the school and other places kids gathered. The Roland Park [PTA] listserv is very, very active and every issue gets picked up and responded to . . . whether it is something like Barnes or dress code or crosswalk activity."

On April 14, 2005, Bob Heck, then president of the Roland Park Elementary and Middle School PTA, cautioned parents that "there are all sorts of rumors flying around," and after meeting with school officials and police offered the following: "All indications are that this man has been sighted in the general area of our school by students of RP--but there have not been any confirmed incidents." Reached by e-mail for this story, Heck responded, "No comment."

Barnes was arrested on April 14, 2005, and charged with trespassing on school grounds and failing to change his address with the state's Sex Offender Unit. When police interviewed 24 students a few days later, according to their report, eight of them reported seeing Barnes at the school.

In court documents charging Barnes with trespassing, Roland Park Elementary Assistant Principal Dot Sell was listed as the witness. Reached by telephone for this story, she declined to comment on the case, but did say that Barnes "was never on school grounds." Sell has since retired from the school, and subsequent requests for comment have gone unanswered. Barnes has maintained that he was no closer to the school than Eddie's of Roland Park, just down the street.

The trespassing charges were dropped, but Barnes pleaded guilty to charges of failing to change his address on the registry. Offenders have one week to notify the state when they move. When Barnes moved into a new apartment on University Parkway at the beginning of April 2005, he changed his address with the state Motor Vehicle Administration but had failed to reregister by the time police arrested him. He received a three-year sentence, all of it suspended, and was ordered to live with his mother in Baltimore County.

By October 2005, Barnes was again sighted in Roland Park. A member of the Roland Park PTA told police, according to a police report, that Barnes was "cruising the streets of Roland Avenue." During the subsequent investigation, Barnes told his parole officer, according to a report, that "he was not in the area to stalk children and that he does not think that way about children. He stated that he went to the Eddie's Supermarket to get pork chops, which are supposed to be the best pork chops he can get."

He was told by his parole officer to stay away from Roland Avenue, and from the apartment he was still leasing on University Parkway. A few days later, police saw his car outside the apartment building. His mother says Barnes had stopped by the apartment to pick up his mail, go to the bank, and shop, but was not there during the period when the police say they spotted his car. He was arrested again, found in violation of his parole, and jailed at the end of October.

In a May 2006 letter to the judge in his case, his handwriting a childish scrawl in all capital letters, Barnes again protests his innocence.





Barnes served a year and a half of his sentence for failing to change his address before being released in March 2007. The conditions of his release included taking his anti-psychotic medication and living in supervised housing, which he found at an assisted-living facility in Pikesville. The conditions also specify that he was to have no contact with children under the age of 18, though the conditions allow for "inadvertent or incidental contact." A report from the Maryland Parole Commission in May indicated that he was meeting all of the conditions, and he has not subsequently been accused of having any direct contact with children.

On April 29, a Sunday, a Roland Park resident who does not want her name used in this story spotted Barnes at the Tropicool Italian Ice stand on Falls Road. She says that she and her children stopped for ice after a day downtown, and she noticed a guy in a red Volkswagen (the type of car that Barnes owns) watching the children for about 20 to 25 minutes. She knew she recognized his distinctive white hair and acne scars from somewhere. "He was kind of a creepy-looking guy," she says. "I felt like I recognized him, but couldn't place him."

The following day, a Monday, Tropicool owner Lydia Fitzsimmons was working alone at the stand when Barnes visited again. He paced back and forth a bit on the wooden deck while waiting to order. He acted strangely, she says, paid in nickels and dimes, then introduced himself--"`Is this your place?'" Fitzsimmons says he asked. "`I'm Kenneth.'" His car was parked near the entrance to the lot, and he lingered for 30 to 45 minutes, Fitzsimmons says, adding that she knows he was watching children because almost all of her customers that day were children.

On Tuesday, a woman saw Barnes at another sno-ball stand, Snoasis, further up Falls Road, in Baltimore County. Her description of the incident is contained in a police report filed that day, where she remains anonymous. She says Barnes got out of his car, parked in front of hers, leaned against it, and, the report says, "started to look at the private area of her daughter." When she wrote down the license-plate number of his car, the report continues, he tried to approach her, asking her not to write down the tag number and saying he needed to talk to her. She left. Barnes told an agent from the parole commission that he approached the woman because he thought his car was preventing her from getting out of her parking space.

According to the police report, after the anonymous woman discovered Barnes' name, she found it listed on the online sex-offender registry.

Word of the Snoasis incident got back to the woman in Roland Park who had seen Barnes at Tropicool. She called the police. She sent out an e-mail to friends, warning them about Barnes. "I talked to a friend of mine--David Blumberg--to see what I could do as a concerned mother," she says, "to communicate to the [parole] commission what I had seen."

On Wednesday, the woman's husband went to Tropicool with a color printout of Barnes' picture, asked Lydia Fitzsimmons whether she had seen him, and told Fitzsimmons about Barnes' status as a sex offender. Fitzsimmons called the police. "It kind of snowballed from there," she says. "People started coming out of the woodwork."

News reports of the incident mentioning her business angered her, she says. "It needs to be handled correctly," she says. "By which I mean, we need to put him away. Instead of exploiting businesses, let's exploit him."

Parole officials, including Blumberg, believe Barnes' behavior indicated he was thinking about re-offending. But, as Flynn Owens points out, even if Barnes was thinking about doing something he shouldn't, thinking about doing something is not a crime. "He didn't try to touch anybody at the sno-ball stand," Owens says. "He didn't try to lure anybody away from the sno-ball stand."

Owens' downtown office is decorated with a large model of the car driven by cartoon character Speed Racer, and he is given to pop-culture references.

"I was trying to think of the name of the movie at the parole hearing," he says, "and it came on TV shortly afterward. It was that Tom Cruise movie--Minority Report--where [psychics] get these visions, and then Tom Cruise and his band of merry men go out five minutes before the person commits the crime, when he still hasn't done anything, and arrest him."

In an undated letter, sent after his most recent incarceration, Barnes writes to his family:

"I only went to enjoy a snowball + in a healthy normal way people watched. People just don't like me anymore cuz of bad publicity and condemn and recondemn even though it was never true originally. This is impossible for me and I'll never forget it. I only wish it passes soon again, and know at least you all know and believe me. This helps me a lot till it passes. A year of social work and then a wise relocation is my best bet. I hope you let me initially come home then till I find a place."

Barnes goes on to ask his family to fight for a transfer to a hospital setting--for most of his incarceration since 2005, he has been kept in isolation and, his mother and doctor say, has received no mental-health treatment. He signs off, "If it doesn't go at first please keep trying to transfer me no matter what for me please thanks KEB." Across the top of the letter he has written, "Please remember to keep trying."


Barnes and his accusers aren't the only ones who have been busy writing letters. Dr. Robert Fiscella, a psychiatrist for the Veterans Administration and former medical consultant to the Johns Hopkins Psychohormonal Research Unit dealing with sex offenders, has been treating Ken Barnes for almost 10 years. Fiscella declined to be interviewed for this story, citing VA regulations, but in letters to the court he has defended his patient.

In 2005, when Barnes was accused of failing to reregister, Fiscella wrote, "The facts of the original conviction are irrelevant at this time, but I can say over the course of the 10 years or so that I have known Ken, I have never been able to elicit any notion of a preoccupation with children, or any sexual fantasies involving children. Ken has been stubborn and willful, but like most psychotic patients, he appears to be unguarded, guileless, and `up front' in his demeanor with me."

In an undated internal VA letter obtained from Barnes' family, Fiscella expresses regret that he was unable to attend Barnes' 2005 parole hearing due to an administrative decision by the VA, and writes that a regional counsel for the VA "sent me a strongly worded memo informing me that I could not appear in court on behalf of a VA patient and detailing the consequences if I violated the relevant regulations without approval by his office." In the letter, Fiscella writes that he believes that if he had been present at the hearing, he could have forestalled a Barnes outburst before the judge, which the doctor calls "an angry, abusive rant, declaiming his innocence of all charges, his persecution by the court, feeling that he `was in Iran,' etc., and resulting in the judge's imposing a prison sentence."

Fiscella goes even further in the second letter: "This case represents a gross miscarriage of justice in the community, compounded by a less than caring response on the part of the VA. It is a metaphor for the plight of vulnerable psychotic patients throughout the country."

"This is the issue that has plagued us so often," says Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic, when presented with Barnes' case. "How do we balance the individual's rights and the rights of the community to be safe? What makes it so tough is the ambiguity. We don't want the children of these neighborhoods to be in danger." Berlin says that, given the attention Barnes has drawn, if he were Barnes' doctor, he would advise him to stay away from anything that could be perceived as improper behavior. "It's so hard to say--if he's hanging around there to look at children, if I were his physician, I would advise him to get some help."

Flynn Owens awaits news of Judge Handy's verdict, which could eventually reopen the long dormant sex abuse case. In his office, a few weeks before the last hearing, he asks, "Am I the only one who's troubled by what's going on here?

"This has made me somewhat cynical, this case," Owens continues. "I used to think that maybe people cared about things like due process and the Bill of Rights, and it's occurred to me that, for the most part, people don't care. If their lives are comfortable, they don't necessarily care what's happening to the guy down the street. And if they want Ken Barnes out of their neighborhood because he gives them the creeps, forget the fact that he hasn't done anything illegal--screw the Bill of Rights. Let's send him to prison and get him out of here.

"It's," he says, pausing before deciding on the right word: "disheartening."

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