William Barnes, who served as Schenectady County sheriff for eight years and as a state police officer and investigator for 24 years, died Thursday at age 80 after a brief illness.
Barnes had the reputation of being one of the top state police investigators during his 16-year stint as a member of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He investigated a number of high-profile cases, interviewing several murderers, including serial killer Lemuel W. Smith. Barnes is credited with having solicited the confession of notorious convicted child-killer Marybeth Tinning. He retired from the state police as the senior investigator in the state's Major Crimes Unit.
"He was a great interrogator, solved more homicides than anyone in the state police at that time," recalled Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. "He also served two terms as sheriff and was a great community leader."
Current Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, whose office prosecuted Tinning, said he worked closely with Barnes and had great respect for his abilities as an interrogator.
"He was one of the most accomplished state police investigators of his era. I got to know him when I was assistant DA, and I always respected him. Of course, later, when he was elected sheriff I worked with him closely and knew him well, knew his family. We got along very well, and he was very well respected in the law enforcement community," he said. "He knew how to connect with people. He would find some source of empathy that he had with them, and by doing that he would establish a sort of bond with them, and, often times, they would want to share their secrets with him. He was capable of great empathy."
In a surprise to some, Barnes supported Tinning's bid for parole in 2009, saying she was no longer a threat to society. The parole board denied Tinning her release, citing the vicious nature of her crime, and has repeatedly denied her bids for parole since then.
Tinning was convicted of murdering her infant daughter Tami Lynne on Dec. 20, 1985, but she was also suspected, but never tried or convicted, of having killed seven of her eight other children over a 14-year period.
After retiring from the state police, Barnes, a Democrat, ran for sheriff in 1986, but was defeated by Republican incumbent Bernard T. Waldron. He then lost a bid to become Duanesburg town supervisor the following year, but reversed his political fortunes when he beat Waldron for sheriff in their 1990 rematch. He served as sheriff from 1990 to 1998.
Barnes grew up in the Duanesburg area and graduated from Delanson Free School in 1955. He also served in the United States Navy Reserve.
He is survived by his wife, Linda; his children, Diana Lockwood of Mesa, Arizona; Bill (Sally) Barnes of Austin, Texas; Tim (Margot) Barnes of Duanesburg; and Mary (Mark) Zanta of Scotia; 11 grandchildren, one great-grandson; sister, Beverly Spreckles; and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his daughter Kelly and sister Norma Egelston