A Decision

Homeless Couple Charged With Manslaughter

Julie Barnes was held in prison for more than eight months. She gave birth to a baby boy, who was placed with a family for possible adoption. But Barnes' lawyers strived for her to get out - if they could persuade a judge to reduce her bail.

Finally, the efforts of Debb and Tim King paid off. The judge ruled that Barnes' companion, Tom Levesque, had to stay in prison on high bail. But because of the Kings' hard work, Barnes' bail was reduced, to $25,000, which was just about all they had been able to raise.

The charges still stood. But Barnes was released from prison in the custody of the Kings.

"Today is like a miracle, because, you know, you live in your small town, and you work with your community, but you just never realize that you can make a change like this," declared a triumphant Debb King.

"My sense tells me that she really wants this family," Debb King said. "She really wants the structure."

After a five-hour car ride to Ellsworth, Maine, Julie Barnes got to know her new family. She was painfully shy, but by the time the Kings hit the shopping mall, she began to feel a little more comfortable.

The Kings could not wait to see Barnes reunited with her younger sister the next week when Jennifer returned from summer camp. At first, the meeting was a bit awkward but pizza helped break the ice. The two sisters - who resembled each other in looks and limitations - were starting to find each other after a 13-year separation.

"She goes anywhere from a 12-year-old to maybe a 14-year-old," was Debb King's frank assessment of Barnes' emotional state. "You know, she's at the boy-crazy age."

Asked if Barnes could understand the charges against her, the Kings said no. When Barnes herself was asked, her muffled answer was, "They blame me for six manslaughters."

When questioned by 48 Hours what Barnes said about the night of the fire, Debb King said, "She just tells me she didn't do it. She had nothing to do with it."

"That she wasn't even there," added Tim King.

But would Barnes actually be tried? If so, it wouild be a difficult case to decide: Is there a duty to report a fire? Does her mental disability excuse her failure to report? Should her companion be held more responsible? Or was it simply a horrible accident that produced six true heroes and no true villains?

The Kings believed the charges should be dropped. "Most people understand that finding someone responsible, even finding someone at fault would not bring closure to the pain and the terrible wound that Worcester has suffered," said Tim King.

"Doing anything to these people is the equivalent of kicking a puppy," firefighter John Sullivan weighed in. "It may feel good, but it's not going to do anything."

Barnes' lawyers went back to court to ask the judge to drop all the charges; she still faced the possibility of 120 years behind bars.
And as she faced the six counts of manslaughter, Barnes, in her fresh Maine surroundings, tried hard to become a brand-new person.

"What'd she say to you yesterday?" asked Tim King.

"How she can change her name to Sandy King and be part of the family," responded his wife Debb.

Then there was a dramatic development in the court case: The judge dismissed all the charges against Barnes and Levesque.

"We're just extremely grateful that he made this decision," Debb King declared.

Some might wonder: Was what Barnes and Levesque did - to walk away from a fire - morally wrong? Did they know what they did?

In the end, the judge determined the fire was an accident and decided the case by the letter of the law alone. He ruled that in Massachusetts there is no legal obligation to report a fire. The district attorney is now appealing the case.

"And now I see how right I am about her,...that she was just an innocent soul that got lost in the system, and that's sad," said Debb King.

Barnes now works as a full-time hotel housekeeper.

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