HAGERSTOWN -- For nine years, Robert F. Ewing was a blue-clad policeman, cruising South Baltimore in his patrol car, breaking up fights, chasing burglary suspects, directing traffic.
That was almost 20 years ago. These days, he's on the other side of the law, a convicted murderer doing 30 years at the Maryland Correctional Institution, the old stone prison southwest Hagerstown.
He is gray-haired and 47 years old. He's put on some weight since graduating from the police academy in 1966. At mid-life, he an angry man who says he was wrongly convicted in February 1991 and wrongly imprisoned for the 1981 murder. His prison life is made worse because he's a former policeman.
Early in his prison stay, he overheard a group of inmates planning his murder. They were going to use baseball bats. That's when he left the general population and sought protective custody, where he is less free to move about, or participate in sports and other programs.
With nothing but time, Ewing fights for a new trial. He says his lawyer was ineffective, that the judge, who knew the victim's sister, should have removed himself from the case. However, at the trial Ewing didn't object to the judge's hear ing the case.
His new lawyer, M. Gordon Tayback, is planning to ask for a new trial. Mr. Tayback is confident that Ewing's conviction on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder will be thrown out because of a legal technicality.
His former lawyer, Russell White, says Ewing is a "pathological liar" who blames everyone but himself.
"He's a manipulator," Mr. White said. "He's learned to lie a lot. He's just a very evil guy. I wish I could say something good about him."
Ewing and his gunman, Jack D. Mayhew, were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Mayhew's conspiracy charge was thrown out by a Baltimore County judge because, at the time of the murder, there was a one-year statute of limitations on filing conspiracy charges. Both say they are innocent.
But while proclaiming his innocence, Ewing also says he's glad Joseph E. Jackson Sr., his former neighbor, is dead. He believes Jackson raped his daughter when she was 10 years old.
"I won't have no remorse for Joe Jackson," Ewing said. "The dirty bastard."
Dorothy T. Jackson, a local lawyer who once served in the Mary land legislature, didn't want to talk about the case involving her brother's murder. She said it would only force her family to relive events, and would only help Ewing.
Jackson's brother, John, is city manager of Franklin, Va., a small town of about 8,000 people. Even though he hasn't lived in Maryland for 20 years, and wasn't around when his brother was murdered, John Jackson said he thinks about his brother almost every day.
"I wonder what he would be doing now, what he would have done with his life," said Mr. Jackson. He said that he grew up in the house where his brother was killed, and that they were especially close because there weren't many neighborhood children to play with.
Seeking a quiet life
Numerous interviews, court testimony, court records and police reports tell of how Ewing, a self-described proud and happy cop, came to be locked up for a contract murder.
Perhaps Ewing's slide began in March 1973, when he was a police officer directing traffic in the rain on the Hanover Street Bridge. There had been a fatal accident. As he worked, a car hit him from behind. His leg was torn up and he developed a nervous shaking that led to his retiring from the police force on a medical disability in 1975.
In 1977, while working as a security guard at Golden Ring Mall, he moved his family to their dream home, a quiet waterfront lot at the end of Back River Neck Road in Essex. Things were good on Riverview Road until 1980, when a feud erupted between Ewing and his next-door neighbor, Joe Jackson.
It started when Jackson, a long-haired, bearded man who liked to tinker with cars, complained about a new wing being built on Ewing's home. It escalated with Ewing's daughter accusing "Mr. Joe" of exposing himself to her. The Ewings had him arrested three times for indecent exposure. He was convicted at least once, a few weeks before his death.
Ewing says Jackson retaliated. He says Jackson damaged his 1978 Corvette, had his dog attack their dog, and threatened to burn down the Ewing home. At the trial, a witness said Ewing told Jackson: "When I get you alone, I will get you."
One month before the murder, Ewing told police that Jackson threatened him with a rifle before driving off. Police stopped Jackson and found a Crossman BB gun, which Jackson said belonged to his son. He denied threatening Ewing.
A week before the murder, Ewing charged Jackson with spraying acid on his car and puncturing his radiator.