Parole denied in '78 police slayings Black man who shot white PG officers faces 8 more years.

July 29, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

The Maryland Parole Commission today denied parole to Terrence G. Johnson, a black man whose 1978 slaying of two white Prince George's County police officers inflamed racial tensions.

The commission's ruling, which has been under consideration for almost six months, means Johnson will likely have to serve the remainder of his 25-year prison sentence. With time off for good behavior, he will be eligible to be released in 1999.

The seven-member commission voted unanimously against parole Wednesday, said Paul J. Davis, chairman of the panel.

Johnson, who was 15 at the time of the killings, has been a mainly trouble-free prisoner who has finished high school, graduated from college and received vocational training in prison, Davis said.

Those achievements, however, did not outweigh "the impact of the crime in the general community and the sense of the community at large of the seriousness of the crime," Davis said.

"Our fears, of course, were that in times of violence being on the uprise, such as we're experiencing now, a negative message could be sent to the community if we allowed Mr. Johnson to be paroled," Davis said.

Johnson was convicted of manslaughter in the June 1978 shooting of Officer Albert M. Claggett 4th. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of Officer James B. Swart. Johnson shot both officers in the Hyattsville police station.

Johnson has maintained that Claggett was beating him up when he grabbed Claggett's revolver and shot him.

"He was trying to break my neck," Johnson testified at his 1979 trial. "I thought he was going to kill me."

After shooting Claggett, Johnson burst out of a small basement fingerprinting room firing shots, one of which killed Swart.

The parole commission received an unusually high volume of correspondence in the case, Davis said. Activists in support of Johnson formed a group called "Justice Denied," which argued that the slayings were the product of a police force that was insensitive and sometimes abusive toward blacks. On the other side, the Prince George's County Fraternal Order of Police vocally opposed parole.

Parole for Johnson would be "a gross miscarriage of justice and a social outrage," Prince George's County police Maj. G. Frederick Robinson said earlier this year.

Johnson is now a minimum-security inmate at the Baltimore City Correctional Center. He was denied parole twice before.

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