Part 2: The Freedom Fight For Barry Massey
Barry Massey was just 13 years old when he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of Paul Wang- a husband, father and convenience store owner in Washington state. That was more than 20 years ago. Massey was convicted along with Michael Harris and both were given life without parole.
Exactly which of the boys committed the murder is debatable, however, anecdotal, psychological and physical evidence points to Michael Harris over Barry; Harris was older and had a history of violence and a penchant for crime where Barry did not. Harris allegedly confessed to another juvenile at a detention facility that he committed the murder and Barry was just a look-out. There was no gunshot powder residue on Barry’s hands when he was picked up by police leaving the scene. The bits and pieces mount from there.
Nevertheless, at issue is not Massey’s culpability, but how his legal case was handled by the system.
Was the state justified in locking up a child for the rest of his life? Or was Barry Massey nothing more than a ruthless killer who would never contribute anything positive to society?
It would be easy for someone in Barry’s position to be extremely angry and self destructive. The only certainty about a life sentence is knowing the ultimate end; death in prison.
For the first ten years Barry was locked up- he was angry. He fought for respect. He didn’t invest anything in himself. At 26 years old, that changed. Barry realized that even though he was locked away, he could still define himself as a man, as a human being. He made the choice to change.
Since then he’s received his GED, started a youth intervention program, taught fitness classes for his peers and continues to educate himself any way he can, even though his life sentence allows the State to deny him opportunities other inmates would have, like taking college level classes.
Though the State never invested rehabilitation services in Barry, Mr. Massey has successfully rehabilitated himself. He created a purposeful life on his own- because he believed he was destined to be better than his conviction, and stronger than the bars that hold him in prison.
And of all things, in 2009- he was married. His wife is his strongest advocate and believes it isn’t a matter of “if” Barry comes home, but “when”.
What kind of woman would willingly marry a man already in prison with no release date in sight?
Meet Rhonda Massey. She met Barry when she worked for the Department Of Corrections at Monroe Prison. She now works as a criminal defense investigator for the Snohomish County Public Defenders Association:
As his most outspoken champion, Rhonda is well versed on the details of the murder and subsequent court action. She describes how Barry’s story began:
After the two boys left the small store, they hitched a ride with a stranger who was leaving work nearby. Within minutes of starting down the road, the driver was pulled over by police. As it turned out, the officer was looking for a 13 year old African American boy who reportedly hadn’t returned home the night before and may have run away. The officer took the names of the 3 people in the car and checked them against the information she had.
Panic gripped Harris and Massey as the officer walked back from her car:
Scared of Harris, and having no grasp of the possible implications of admitting to murder- Barry Massey confessed in his interrogation to killing Paul Wang. The recording is particularly upsetting to his supporters, including Rhonda:
Original Interrogation Part 1: Barry Massey Interrogation Pt 1 (1)
Original Interrogation Part 2:Barry Massey Interrogation Pt 2
The Prosecution moved ahead with a jury trial.
Rather than a public defender Barry was represented by his then basketball coach, James Buckley, a civil attorney with no criminal experience.
He was convicted.
Washington’s laws around child offenders have changed in the years since Barry was locked up, his key effectively thrown away. We know more about how children think, reason, learn, and mature. Our lawmakers have seen fit to ensure what happened to Barry in 1987 doesn’t happen anymore.
If we knew then what we know now, there’s a good chance Barry Massey would already be out of prison, because the system would have treated him differently at every step of his case and he would not have received the same sentence. That said, many people feel that if life is the sentence he was given, life is the sentence he should accept- that trying to get out of prison says he isn’t really remorseful. Again, Rhonda Massey:
Even if he is given clemency and released from prison, he will still be a convicted murderer. When he applies for employment he will have to disclose his criminal history. If he wants his voting rights back, he’ll have to petition the state down the road after he’s stayed out of trouble for a few years.
He will still be one of two people responsible for the death of Paul Wang. That will never change:
Barry isn’t trying to weasel out of his personal accountability after 23 years. He accepts responsibility for what he has done.
What he is fighting, is the injustice against him. He is fighting to free himself from institutionalization. None of us can imagine what it would be like to be a stranger to the world. Even the small things- like riding in a car:
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Ultimately Barry’s fate rests in the hands of Governor Gregoire. Even if the Clemency Board rules in his favor (which is expected), Gregoire could deny the recommendation as she did in 2007, or she could take no action- indefinitely. Rhonda wants Governor Gregoire to know Barry is worthy of release not just because of the injustice done to him, and not just because he has done so well for himself in prison- but because more than anything, Barry wants to give back:
To say the character or judgment flaws of a 13-year-old could never change- that his life was hopeless- pointless even… it’s unconscionable. The Governor should work with all haste to reverse this injustice.
Life was his sentence- and life is what he should get back.
Read the clemency petition awaiting action by Governor Gregoire [download id="2"]
Visit the official website for Barry Massey
Watch the KTPS Documentary on this case
Barry Massey series: Part 1