Muslim convict preaches revolution from jail cell Some prison officials fear inmate rebellion

May 07, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

A leader of the infamous "shotgun robbers" gang has struck fear into criminal justice officials who accuse him of using jail as a classroom for teaching terrorism and racial hatred as part of a revolutionary crime movement.

Declaring that Allah has sanctioned the terrorism, Eric Cornell Wheeler, 31, a self-proclaimed Muslim revolutionary, served jail time at the Baltimore County Detention Center where he encouraged other inmates to riot.

Some criminal justice officials are worried that Wheeler will win converts to his homespun revolutionary doctrine while serving time at his new home, the maximum security Maryland Penitentiary.

The shotgun robbers were linked to numerous robberies in the city and Baltimore County last year. Wheeler is serving a 180-year prison term in connection with the robberies.

Wheeler, who is black, says the shotgun wielding robbers targeted white-owned stores, restaurants and banks to avenge racist injustices, a theory that he openly says he will try to teach to impressionable inmates.

Some prison officials would like to see Wheeler held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, a super-maximum security institution where inmates are allowed out of their isolation cells for only about an hour a day.

"He's still allowed to mingle in the prison yards [at the Maryland Penitentiary]. He is still going to be in daily contact with inmates, and he says he hopes to start a revolution," said one official familiar with his case, who asked not to be identified.

Wheeler is "an extremely dangerous individual who would stop at nothing to accomplish his goals," according to an evaluation on file in Baltimore Circuit Court. "He has advised that he intends to continue studying the scriptures and to rebel against a repressed system," the evaluation added.

Another court document details the concerns of Baltimore County Detention Center officials, who said Wheeler had recruited inmates there for "strong-arm and terrorist-type activities."

Wheeler was held at the detention center while awaiting trial on robbery charges in Baltimore County. At one point, Wheeler fomented so much unrest in his housing section that the other inmates had to be locked down while he was moved to another area, court records said.

"He appears to be a fanatic to the point that he would seriously harm, or even kill another inmate or staff member . . . he is a very serious threat," detention center officials said in the court document.

His main aim, in prison or out, is to get blacks to use violent methods in what he called a white-controlled system, he said in court records.

In those records he speaks of receiving permission from Allah to carry out a mission for blacks who have been deprived of the "American Dream" by racism.

"You have that on your side if you know how to cause panic," Wheeler said, adding: "And a lot of time that's what was caused. Panic."

In court records, Wheeler said he became "groomed in violence" while growing up in Washington. Although he grew up in what he described as a "good churchgoing family, in a stable community," Wheeler told investigators that he became disillusioned with the number of blacks who were forced to turn to drugs.

After a brief stint in the military in which he was discharged for sleeping on guard duty, Wheeler had brief jobs as a cook, a temporary worker, and a street peddler in Washington, selling costume jewelry, purses and other items, court records said.

He said in the records that he became angry with American life, and became a follower of Islam four years ago. Shortly after, he and others organized the shotgun robbery gang, he said.

The only detail he divulged in the court records was that the gang was well-organized and would plan its robberies at a Days Inn in Washington, then would drive to a Baltimore motel before embarking to the robbery target.

The money stolen by gang members was to be used for starting black-owned businesses, but he admitted in the records that although they priced a nightclub, they never bought anything but a sandwich maker. It was the first investment toward starting a restaurant, he said.

When asked why he bought personal gold jewelry and expensive clothes with the robbery money, Wheeler replied "because Allah has no objection" and that he needed the clothes "to dress the part while committing crimes," court records said.

Wheeler has been jailed since his surrender in the March 7, 1991, robbery of the State Employees' Credit Union in Towson, when he held 13 employees hostage after his five accomplices left him during an alarm sounding.

Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a state prison spokesman, said the penitentiary would not be a fertile recruiting ground for Wheeler.

"It's certainly not unusual for us to get someone who people are afraid of. It's a reminder of the violent type of inmate we get on a daily basis," Mr. Shipley said, adding: "I don't know if there's going to be much Mr. Wheeler is going to be able to teach his fellow inmates."

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