October 28, 2021

Appeal planned in fatal warehouse fire

ELLSWORTH – The family of Julie Barnes is taking a wait-and-see attitude now that a Massachusetts district attorney plans to appeal a judge’s decision to dismiss manslaughter charges against Barnes and Thomas Levesque.

The couple had been charged with manslaughter in connection with the warehouse fire in Worcester, Mass., last year that killed six firefighters.

District Attorney John Conte filed a notice of appeal on Wednesday in Superior Court in Worcester. The notice means that Conte plans to take the case against Levesque and Barnes to the Massachusetts Appeal Court.

Barnes has been living with her sister’s adoptive family, Tim and Debb King, in Ellsworth since this summer.

“We’re very disappointed,” Debb King said Thursday. “This is another hurdle we’re going to have to jump over. We had really wanted to see Julie be able to continue to get on with her life. She’s doing very well. We thought we could just keep working on the things she needs to do, but clearly that’s not going to happen.”

King said Barnes was upset by Conte’s filing. .

“She’s afraid to go back to prison,” she said. “Her attorney talked to her and calmed her down.”

Attorney Louis T. Aloise said he was disappointed by the district attorney’s decision, but not surprised considering the legal ramifications of the case.

“From a legal point of view, the case does present unique issues of law,” he said, “but I don’t know if it’s in the best interests of the community to keep this case open.”

King agreed.

“There’s no reason for this,” she said. “The public sentiment is not to prosecute Julie.”

In September, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Timothy Hillman dismissed the charges against Barnes and Levesque, ruling that the couple’s actions – knocking over a candle during an argument in the warehouse where they lived and then not reporting the fire – did not meet the legal standard of manslaughter.

The massive Dec. 3, 1999, blaze at the abandoned warehouse caused the worst loss of life among firefighters from a building fire in America in more than 20 years. The memorial service in Worcester drew 40,000 people including President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

Aloise said he had spoken with Barnes early Thursday morning.

“I called her this morning so she wouldn’t hear it from any other source, and she was upset,” he said. “She asked me if she was going back to jail tomorrow. I explained to her that the appeal may take up to a year as it winds its way through the courts.”

The proceedings could include another hearing to review bail conditions, King said, adding, however, that she had no definite information on that process at this time.

Barnes became a part of the Kings’ life after Tim King, who is the city manager in Ellsworth, saw the young woman on television after she was arrested. He noticed a resemblance between Barnes and the couple’s 16-year-old adopted daughter, Jennifer, who is Barnes’ sister. The Kings were able to arrange for Barnes’ release on bail in July and brought her to Ellsworth to live with them. “She’s really doing wonderfully,” Debb King said. “She’s working and doing all the things she needs to do. We’re very proud of her.”

Barnes, who is developmentally disabled, began working with a job coach last month, doing housekeeping work in the area.

King said the two sisters have developed a wonderful relationship with each other during the past few months.

“They really protect each other,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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