Fugitive Veney is arrested in N.Y. during TV interview Felon says he tried to surrender

April 26, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Fugitive murderer Sam Veney -- broke, paranoid, distressed that he'd lost a winning lottery ticket and wanting desperately to get back to Maryland -- was arrested by New York City police at noon yesterday as he told his story to a television reporter on a midtown Manhattan sidewalk.

"He was holding a press conference on the same block as our Midtown South Precinct, and our officers interrupted him," said a New York City police spokesman, who said Veney would be held in New York until Maryland authorities do the necessary paperwork to bring him home.

According to Veney, his arrest came a day after he tried to surrender to New York police but was kicked out of a precinct house as a vagrant telling unbelievable stories.

"They told me, 'You hear what I say? Get out! Get out of here!' I told them to call [police] in Maryland [to confirm his escape] and they said, 'We're not calling anybody. Get out,' " he said in a taped phone interview with WBAL-TV in Baltimore.

During his week of freedom in New York, the 54-year-old Veney slept in parks, ate and washed in homeless shelters, and walked the streets. He was even treated for a minor injury at a Manhattan hospital when a cab backed into him, said Thelma Veney, 53, his sister.

After concluding that being locked up in a Maryland prison was a better fate than being homeless in New York, Veney called his sister about 9:45 a.m. yesterday, and she called WBAL-TV in Baltimore seeking help.

Originally sentenced to death for the 1964 Christmas murder of Baltimore police Sgt. Jack Lee Cooper, Veney was serving a life sentence when he failed to report back to prison a week ago while free on a weekend visit to his family. The murder, which occurred during the holdup of a Greenmount Avenue liquor store, was one of the most notorious crimes in Baltimore history. Veney was convicted with his brother Earl, who was found hanged in prison in 1976. The pair became the first brothers to make the FBI's most wanted list.

It was on a whim, he told his family by phone yesterday, that he decided to take a bus to New York instead of returning to the Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup.

"It was a spur of the moment thing with him. He said he was tired of being in prison," said Thelma Veney, who said she called the media after failing to reach detectives in the Maryland State Police fugitive unit. When she called them yesterday, she said, she got a recording.

Ms. Veney said she then called TV reporters because she was afraid that if New York police cornered her brother, they might kill him.

"Thelma told me her brother was Sam Veney, that he was in New York and wanted to turn himself in," said Terrie F. Snyder, a WBAL assignment editor. "She put me on a conference call with a guy at a New York pay phone, and I was trying to figure out if this could be legit so I just started talking to them."

After being persuaded that the man on the other end of the line was Sam Veney, Ms. Snyder alerted Maryland State Police and called colleagues in New York to cover Veney's arrest and assure his safety.

In New York, veteran WCBS-TV reporter J. J. Gonzalez hit the streets of midtown to find the convict.

Veney discovered the reporter first, near Macy's at Seventh Avenue and 34th Street.

"He came over to me and said, 'Hey, I'm the fella you're looking for,' " said Mr. Gonzalez, who said he was worried because Veney was very nervous and Mr. Gonzalez didn't know whether the convict was armed. "I had him walk with me toward the police station and he kept pointing at people on the street saying: 'Those two are cops,' and, 'They're watching me.' "

Veney told Mr. Gonzalez that he hadn't eaten in a few days, so the reporter took him into a Roy Rogers and bought him several hamburgers and later treated him to a couple packs of cigarettes.

As they talked, Mr. Gonzalez said, Veney told of his misadventures: of being hit by a cab and having his injury tended to at St. Luke's Hospital; of trying in vain to turn himself in; and through it all, of somehow -- either to police or hospital officials, Veney maintained -- losing his identification and * *TC winning three-digit New York lottery ticket.

"I just kept trying to calm him down, but he wasn't threatening in any way," Mr. Gonzalez said. "Then he insisted on talking to our camera and I asked him why he had ruined a good prison record by escaping. He said it seemed to him they were never going to parole him."

Quoting Veney, Mr. Gonzalez said: "I realize I hurt myself, but I didn't want to die in prison. There was nothing else I could give them. I did everything they asked me to. I been on work release for 10 years, I had 20 [successful] family leaves and every time I went before the parole board they kept turning me down for no reason. They claimed they had reasons but I know it was just because I killed a police officer."

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