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He Got Life

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“I don’t have time to waste,” says Barry about that turn of events. For a time, he led church services in his home. (These days he attends “church” in someone else’s house, and, as the Bible commands, donates a tenth of his income to it.)

Barry’s idiosyncrasies didn’t exactly endear him to Menon’s colleagues at the center. There was, in addition to everything else, the zone of secrecy he maintained around his activities. He refused, for instance, to open an office or provide a home address. “I have several locations I operate secretly out of,” he told employers. “I operate like a ghost. I’m the man with no name and and no address.” If this dramatic flourish was intended to impress, it didn’t do the trick.

“Give me a break,” responded one of Menon’s colleagues, exasperated. “Like he’s Mister Private Eye.”

More frustrating still was Barry’s attitude toward report-writing. “I don’t write reports,” Barry says. Once in a while, he’d present handwritten documents, a page or so of block letters resembling a ransom note.

Still, if Barry was a professional oddball, as marginal in his way as David Wong, there was also something irresistible about him. Lawyers have a duty (and a financial interest) to vigorously defend all comers. Barry, inspired, as he put it, by “my upbringing in the Bible,” wanted good deeds to do. “Dirtbags,” Barry calls guilty defendants. As earnest in a sense as Menon, he preferred innocent clients, and in the past fifteen years, he had gotten a dozen of them out of jail.

In considering Barry’s continued employment, Menon and his colleagues noted that past investigators hadn’t made very much progress. Barry, at least, seemed intent. The Bible admonishes a person to seek the truth; Barry’s business card declared him “Dedicated to the truth.” “If you want the truth, you have to go get it,” he says, “and it’s going to be hard to get.” Barry, though, was prepared to make Menon a promise. “If there are people out there that know Wong didn’t do this, dead or alive, I promise to find them,” said Barry, who, for good measure, added, “and if they’re alive I’ll talk to them.” For the time being, he was kept on.

Barry took several months to familiarize himself with the record in the Wong case—in addition to low overhead, Barry favors reasonable hours—though it didn’t take long to realize that no one had ever done a thorough investigation. Previous investigators had approached the matter professionally. They generated polite letters requesting witness interviews. The file duly noted that no one responded.

Barry’s technique, by contrast, was “the show-up,” which, as he explained to Menon, involved confronting an unsuspecting witness wherever he could be found. Barry had stories about show-ups in hospital rooms and at workplaces. Once he got going on the Wong case, he pulled a show-up at a golf course. Arriving between holes, he confronted the guard who’d coaxed the inmate to name Wong.

“You forced this guy to say David Wong was the chimp who did this crime, didn’t you?” Barry shouted at the guard, who, presumably, had a club in his hands.

You know,” Wong wrote to a friend, “I have no concept before I come to prison that if I suffer or have pains, others will feel pains and suffer with me.

Barry turned off a lot of people. Menon, though, decided Barry was a trip and didn’t mind chauffeuring him to the occasional show-up, which was handy since Barry doesn’t drive.

On one car ride, Barry, who dyes his hair (recently bronze), wore oversize sunglasses, which made him striking though not imposing. At nearly six feet tall, he weighs barely 125 pounds. To compensate, he carries a gun, tucked snugly in his pants.

In the car, Barry let Menon know that his Bible and his gun were his twin pillars. “This is law, and this is order” was how he once put it, pointing to his Bible and then to his sidearm. In a minute, Barry launched into a lecture about his gun, a .380 semiautomatic Beretta, which, mid-lecture, he drew from his pants and waved around the car, freaking out Menon.

“Dude, pleeease, we’re driving in a small car,” said Menon, the son of a respectable midwestern cardiologist. “Put that thing away.”

Eventually, Barry uncovered the East Rochester phone number of the inmate who testified that he saw Wong do the killing. Peter Dellfava, part-time roofer, part-time forger, and onetime prison escapee, had been paroled on his first application, a result, in part, of his agreement to testify against Wong. (The district attorney had recommended parole.) Lately, Dellfava was unemployed.

Barry called to make sure “the body,” as he calls the subject, was at the address. In his work, Barry prefers to employ a ruse, which he pronounces rooce. “I’m an honest person,” he says. “Will I lie to get results? You bet.”


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