Racial bias appeal denied for slayer in Prince George's

October 03, 1990

A divided federal appeals court rejected yesterday a claim that a racially biased jury convicted a black man of killing a white FTC Prince George's County police officer in 1978.

Two judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., affirmed a lower court finding that any error in the trial of Terrence G. Johnson was harmless and did not influence the jury's verdict.

Judge Francis D. Murnaghan Jr. disagreed, saying he knew as a lifelong resident of Maryland that race had permeated many trials there.

During Johnson's 1979 murder trial in the deaths of two white police officers, a juror told Judge Jacob Levin of Prince George's County Circuit Court that she thought the jury foreman was prejudiced because he had told her, "The blacks are sticking together."

The jury convicted Johnson of voluntary manslaughter and the use of a handgun in one officer's death and found him not guilty by reason of insanity in the other officer's death. Johnson was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

After state appeals failed, he asked the federal courts to find that he was denied his constitutional right to a fair trial. U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr. of Baltimore disagreed.

The appeals court opinion written by Judge Sam J. Ervin III and joined by Judge J. Dickson Phillips Jr. found no evidence of racial prejudice.

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