Court to consider whether killer of 2 officers is being illegally held

April 01, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

A court hearing this summer could determine whether Terrence G. Johnson, 31, is being held illegally for the killing of a Prince George's County police officer -- a crime he was convicted of 15 years ago.

Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. agreed yesterday to hold the hearing Aug. 2 to consider Johnson's petition for release.

Yesterday, Johnson's lawyers said the state parole commission violated his constitutional rights to due process by denying his parole request in 1991. They also said Johnson is being cheated out of "good time" credits that would speed his release, that his exemplary prison record is being ignored and that the parole commission's denials are "vindictive and in retaliation" for his acquittal on first-degree murder charges.

Johnson was convicted of manslaughter in 1979 in the death of Officer Albert M. Claggett IV, and found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity in the death of Officer James B. Swart.

Johnson was 15 years old when the shootings occurred. He also was convicted of a handgun violation and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

At yesterday's hearing, the state parole commission's lawyers asked Judge Duckett to dismiss Johnson's petition. The hearing focused on that motion and did not address the merits of whether Johnson should be released.

Richard B. Rosenblatt, an assistant attorney general, argued that a Circuit Court has no authority to second-guess the parole commission, as long as the commission follows state laws and constitutional mandates.

"The question is, 'Is what they [the parole commission] did consistent with the Constitution,' and we must say that it was," he said.

Judge Duckett denied the state's request, ruling that there is a sufficient legal question to warrant a hearing on whether Johnson's rights were violated.

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