The Truth Won't Set You Free
His Accuser Has Recanted and State Officials Have Written Letters On His Behalf, But Kenneth Barnes Remains in Prison
Patricia Winchild thought the hard part was over.
For months the Catonsville social worker searched the streets of Pigtown and Morrell Park, interviewing junkies and prostitutes, looking for the girl who accused her son of molesting her. Finally, in September, she found her.
Under questioning by a private investigator, the girl, named Marian, admitted last month what Winchild had believed all along--the charges were false, a lie she had invented as a girl, a lie that has haunted the accused, Kenneth Barnes, ever since. Afterward, Marian admitted the same thing to a City Paper reporter ("Sex, Lies, and Legal Red Tape," Mobtown Beat, Dec. 5).
Now Winchild faces another battle: trying to free her son from a bureaucracy that can't even get his name right.
Barnes pleaded guilty in 1998 to a charge of third-degree sexual assault against Marian. He took an Alford plea--he did not admit guilt but believed the state had enough evidence to convict him. The evidence at the time was Marian's word.
It was a deal that kept the mentally disabled veteran out of jail, and he remained free for almost 10 years, until 2005 sightings of Barnes near a school in Roland Park, where he lived, sparked a letter-writing campaign from concerned parents. He was accused of failing to change his address with the Maryland Sex Offender Registry, as required by law, and pleaded guilty. He received a three-year suspended sentence. Barnes' freedom was short-lived. In October 2005, he was again jailed for being in Roland Park, and he served a year and a half of his sentence before being released in March 2007.
By April, Barnes' presence at several sno-ball stands near Roland Park alarmed parents and school officials, who wrote to Maryland Parole Commission Chairman David Blumberg, a former president of the Roland Park Civic Association, asking that Barnes be incarcerated. He was--on charges of violating his probation by constituting a danger to others, a charge Barnes' lawyer, Flynn Owens, likens to an Orwellian thought crime.
Barnes remains incarcerated, listed under the name Julius J. Barnes, a moniker he seems to have picked up from the court system. The Maryland Sex Offender Registry, which uses his correct name, lists him as an absconder. He is at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, in solitary confinement, according to Winchild, and unable to receive visitors following his refusal to take a drug test, a refusal his mother says has more to do with his paranoia than with any drug use.
Marian's admission last month, that Barnes has committed no crime, seems to matter little. In a brief letter in December, Blumberg wrote Winchild that Parole Commissioner Jasper Clay, who presided over Barnes' hearing, "feels strongly that unless the sentence structure regarding the initial conviction is modified or amended his original decision will stand."
Salima Siler Marriott, former state delegate and current Baltimore deputy mayor, is among those who have written Blumberg on Barnes' behalf. Her letter from mid-December asks that he be released in time to spend Christmas with his family. Instead, Winchild says, she got a phone call from the Parole Commission just before the holiday, saying nothing had changed. In an e-mailed response for this article, commission spokesman Mark Vernarelli wrote that "unless the Maryland Parole Commission receives more information from a court of law about a modification of Barnes' sentence, they cannot proceed."
A motion in Baltimore Circuit Court, to vacate Barnes' original guilty plea on the grounds that he was never told about the sex-offender registry, which was heard in August, remains undecided. Winchild has spoken to Baltimore defense attorney Edward Smith Jr. about taking on her son's case. Smith says he is waiting for a retainer from Winchild, who says she is battling to get her son's Veterans Affairs benefits released to pay the lawyer.
Barnes is considered disabled; his illness manifested itself while he was in the Army, which entitles him to monthly disability payments that Winchild has relied on to pay her growing legal fees. The VA payments, however, stopped over a year ago, held up while it is determined whether the charges against Barnes are a felony, which would reduce the payments, or a misdemeanor. The charge for which Barnes is jailed, failing to register a new address with the state, is a misdemeanor under Maryland law.
Barnes' sentence allows for his release to a VA hospital for treatment, an option Winchild and Barnes' longtime VA psychiatrist, Robert Fiscella, have tried to exercise. In response to a letter from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Dennis Smith, director of Maryland's VA health care system, wrote that the VA was unable to take Barnes unless he was unconditionally released from confinement.
The same week she recanted her accusations against Barnes, Marian was arrested on an outstanding warrant for violating her probation on drug charges. She remains in jail, although Winchild has attempted to find her placement in a drug-addiction and pregnancy-treatment center. A few days before Christmas, Winchild received a card from Marian. On the inside, she wrote "I am so sorry for all the pain I put you through and Kenny both."
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