King Arthur’s judge Robert A. Barton: It was ‘street justice’

Retired superior court judge Robert A. Barton
Steven A. Rosenberg/Globe Staff
Retired superior court judge Robert A. Barton

Robert A. Barton, the Superior Court judge who presided over the King Arthur’s trials, didn’t have to do much research about Everett and Chelsea before the trials began.

The son of a doctor, Barton grew up in Everett, had friends in Chelsea, and knew the city streets well before heading off to play baseball at Dartmouth College. Later he went to Boston University School of Law, became a Marine, and in 1983 — five years after being appointed to the bench — drew the King Arthur’s trials.

Now 83 and retired, Barton pulled out meticulous notes from the first trial, which ended with three Everett cops going to jail for killing Vincent Bordonaro. In his study, Barton quickly ran down the enormity of the charges: the trial lasted six weeks; there were six closing arguments that were each an hour long; the jury deliberated for six days; and finally the three guilty verdicts, which were announced live on TV on the 6 o’clock news from Middlesex Superior Court.


“When the verdicts were read in court, it took one hour to read them,” said Barton.

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Barton believes the case might never had been heard if Vincent Bordonaro hadn’t died. “This was the equivalent of street justice,” Barton said. “The officers felt they could do whatever they thought would straighten out the situation or make it even. And they weren’t worried about courts or anything else when they banged in.”

After the trial, Barton was asked to speak at several departments in Greater Boston about the need for police to follow the law. At the time, he considered the King Arthur’s incident a seminal case of police brutality, and believed the verdicts would lead to a new era in restraint.

“I said there won’t be any more police brutality for the rest of my life. And you know what’s sad? That only lasts about one decade, about 10 years. Then the senior police officers have retired, or died, a whole new group comes in, new police officers, and that’s ancient history.”

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.