Ken Barnes, The Sno-Ball Stand Sex Offender, Still Awaits Release From Jail
Kenneth Barnes has always written a lot of letters--to his family, his friends, anyone he thought would listen. The prosecutor in his 1998 trial for sex offenses received dozens of letters from Barnes protesting his innocence, so many that the prosecutor asked the court to prohibit Barnes from further contact with him. Barnes' mother, Patricia Winchild, uses the letters as a window into the health of her son, who was classified mentally disabled by the Army in 1994.
The letters stopped coming last May. The few updates she gets on her son's conditions come through one of his fellow inmates at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. He writes to tell her that Barnes tears up her letters without reading them. Then he asks her for money, which he says is for Barnes.
Barnes, currently jailed for charges related to a failure to register a new address with the Maryland Sex Offender Registry, was originally scheduled for release this August, but a decision by the Maryland Parole Commission earlier this month modified his sentence to allow his release in June. Edward Smith Jr., Barnes' lawyer, says he is trying to get Barnes out sooner. Credit for good behavior at Roxbury was revoked, Smith says, because Barnes has refused to leave his cell. Smith characterizes it as a symptom of his client's mental illness.
"I talked to the social worker up there," he says. Barnes "won't come out of his cell, he won't engage anyone. He's distrustful. That's a part of his illness."
Smith says he is trying to get the good-behavior credit restored. With those days subtracted from his sentence, Barnes would have been eligible for release last month.
In a strongly worded complaint in Baltimore Circuit Court, Smith has requested that the court issue a writ of mandamus--used in cases where there is no specific legal remedy to an injustice--on the grounds that the revocation of Barnes' parole in 2007 was "an arbitrary abuse of discretion by a public official and/or agency." In a response to Smith's motion, Assistant Attorney General Susan Baron argues that the Parole Commission exercised its discretion properly in revoking Barnes' parole.
Barnes was jailed for violating his parole on charges of failure to register as a sex offender after he was seen at sno-ball stands in and around North Baltimore ("The Boogeyman of Roland Park," Feature, Aug. 8, 2007). Lydia Fitzsimmons, the owner of one of the stands, described Barnes as "weird"--he lingered around the stand before and after purchasing an ice, then sat in his car in the parking lot. Fitzsimmons believed he was watching her customers, most of whom are children. It was similar behavior at another sno-ball stand that is mentioned in the charge for which he is currently jailed: "That the offender is alleged to have conducted himself in a lewd and licentious manner on 01-01-07 at the Snoasis sno-ball stand and that such conduct could precipitate into an incident of danger to others." Flynn Owens, his attorney at the time, likened the charges to "thought crime."
Smith and Winchild say they would like to have Barnes released into a treatment program but have run into roadblocks. As a disabled veteran, he is eligible for Veterans Affairs benefits, according to his court file. But James Haskell, an incarcerated veterans re-entry specialist with the VA, writes in a letter to Smith, which was introduced into the court record, that treatment programs run by the department are strictly voluntary, and "not to be considered an alternative sentencing option."
In a recent e-mail to the City Paper, Winchild writes, "I cannot tell you how terrible this all has been. It's been excruciating. . . . Just when I think something good is going to happen, it seems we hit another impasse."
Barnes' troubles began in 1996, when the 8-year-old sister of a girl he was dating accused him of rape. Last year, in an interview with City Paper, the girl said she made up the story ("Sex, Lies, and Legal Red Tape," Mobtown Beat, Dec. 5, 2007). At his 1998 trial, however, Barnes took an Alford plea, which means that he did not admit to the crime, but believed the state could convict him based on the available evidence. He has always maintained his innocence, but under the plea, he served no jail time. Winchild, who was his guardian at the time, says she feared that a trial--with his word against the girl's--would have been a gamble. After his release, Barnes served his four years probation without incident and stayed out of trouble.
In 2005, Barnes was living in Roland Park, when residents there began a letter-writing campaign after Barnes was sighted near Roland Park Elementary/Middle School. He was charged with trespassing on school grounds and failure to register a change of address, but the trespassing charges were later dropped. Barnes has maintained that he was shopping at Eddie's of Roland Park, a market down the street. In a brief conversation last year, the assistant principal of the school, who has since retired, said that Barnes was never on school property.
Smith and Winchild say that, even after Barnes is released, they will continue to press to have his original conviction overturned. To that end, they are trying to get a statement from Barnes' original accuser, who was recently released from jail, into the court record. Winchild says that a prosecutor from the State's Attorney's office agreed to interview the girl, who until recently was corresponding with Winchild regularly from a drug-treatment center. Spokesman Joseph Sviatko, from the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, says his office has not contacted the girl.
Smith says he hopes to get treatment for Barnes, after his release, to "make sure he has a good quality of life."
"If he doesn't have a good follow-up, there's going to be repeat--in terms of the way he acts and the way he presents himself," Smith says. "The next community may not be as well-heeled as Roland Park, but he'll still be a registered sex offender."
Smith says, "He'll be out in June, anyway. At least he'll be out in June."
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