Young Terrence Johnson was in the wrong place at the 0...

The Forum

September 06, 1991

Young Terrence Johnson was in the wrong place at the 0) wrong time

Terrence Johnson was 15 when police brought him and his brother into the Hyattsville district police station in 1978 to question his brother about a $29.75 laundromat coin box that had been vandalized. Terrence was not a suspect and had no prior criminal record.

Johnson (according to his trial testimony) mouthed off to Prince George's County police officers. According to Johnson, Officer Albert M. Claggett IV dragged him into a small finger-printing room and began beating him. Johnson said he grabbed the officer's revolver and opened fire, killing Claggett. In panic, he ran from the room firing the gun and fatally shot Officer James B. Swart.

Johnson, who is black, was charged with first-degree murder of two white Prince George's County police officers. He was found guilty of manslaughter in Claggett's death. He was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity in the death of Swart. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Johnson has served 12 of those years. He has finished high school, received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Morgan State University and has worked as a tutor. He has been a model prisoner. On July 29, the Maryland Parole Commission unanimously voted to keep him in prison for another eight years.

Did the commission turn a deaf ear to the facts in this case? Did its members forget that a predominantly white jury must have accepted Johnson's version of the events that took place, in that refused to find him guilty of the first-degree murder of either officer?

The commission considered the case for many months. Did it delay deliberately to issue its ruling on the same day that Eric Joseph Tirado was sentenced by a jury to life in prison without parole for killing Maryland State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf?

Did the seven members of the commission ever once, during their six-month consideration of this case, put themselves in the position of 15-year-old Terrence Johnson? Did they ever once try to imagine the fear of this young man? Obviously, the 12 jurors in the case did.

It appears to me that Terrence Johnson was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the late '70s, there were several allegations of police brutality against blacks in Prince George's County. One report was of a police "death squad" operating out of the Hyattsville station. How fortunate for Prince George's police that back in the days of Johnson's trial, every Tom, Dick and Harry didn't have a video camera.

Cheryl A. Linzey


Help from MID

In an Aug. 28 article, your paper reported about the activities of the Maryland International Division (MID). This agency has been a valuable source of information and support for Ellicott Machine Corp. Even though Ellicott has been exporting dredges regularly since World War II, we have found that MID can still teach us new things.

The Maryland International Division has offered material assistance to Ellicott which has helped us secure orders in Egypt, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. It has recently been providing additional assistance on important projects in Taiwan and Thailand, which have not yet been awarded. In the preceding cases, MID has served either as an experienced counsel, or assisted in our selection of overseas representatives, or helped us navigate federal export bureaucracies, or even been Ellicott's official advocate in the foreign country. This last role is one that federal agencies have been less willing to undertake for fear of playing favorites, but it is a role well suited to a state agency.

I can't say if MID spends money on trade missions exactly the same way Ellicott would, but it is important to Ellicott that Governor Schaefer have an active interest in Maryland exports. We would be concerned if trade missions detracted from the type of trade advice I have cited above; to date we have seen no evidence of that.

Even though we consider Ellicott just a small- to medium-size business, we still have succeeded in exporting to every continent and are dependent on exports for over half of our sales. With good advice and a good product, you don't have to be huge to succeed at exporting.

Peter A. Bowe

The writer is president of Ellicott Machine Corp.'s Dredge Division.

The vibrant Avenue

I enjoyed Winifred Walsh's article, "Remembering the Royal" (Aug. 21). The Royal Theatre was one of many attractions in the vibrant neighborhood around Pennsylvania Avenue. During segregation, the Avenue was "where it was happening" for Baltimore's African-American community.

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