Man who killed officer to be paroled in February

August 12, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer John Rivera contributed to this report.

A day before a judge was to rule on whether Terrence G. Johnson had served enough time for killing a Prince George's County police officer in 1978, the Maryland Parole Commission said yesterday that it will release him in February.

The decision will cut nearly 2 1/2 years off Johnson's wait for his mandatory release date, July 6, 1997. He had been rejected for parole on three earlier occasions.

Johnson, 31, has been behind bars since age 15. He was sentenced in 1979 to 25 years in prison in connection with the shooting deaths of two Prince George's County police officers. He was convicted of manslaughter in the death of one officer he shot while running from a room at the Hyattsville police station, but found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity in the other officer's death.

"It's a victory," said Robert Johnson, father of the inmate. He was watching television accounts of the commission's decision when reached at home yesterday afternoon. "Tomorrow's going to be a happy day."

Rita Swart, whose son, James B. Swart, was the second man Johnson shot, had no comment when reached by telephone last night.

"No, I'm not in the mood," she said in a low voice.

Blanche Clagett, whose son, Albert M. Claggett IV, was the first shot, said the news, delivered by reporters, made her feel "tired, disgusted and disappointed."

course we wanted to see him do his entire time," said Mrs. Clagett, who lives in Deltona, Fla., with her husband Albert Clagett III. "We know it wasn't enough time to begin with. He should have to serve the full time."

Mrs. Clagett said she wasn't surprised at Mrs. Swart's decision not to comment. "She's very bitter and she has every right to be," said Mrs. Clagett, noting that her own pain continues, even though her son was murdered 16 years ago.

David B. Mitchell, chief of Prince George's County police, said in a statement released yesterday, "The pain is still fresh and the pain is still deep." He said it is the department's position that "the sentence imposed on any person involved in the death of a police officer should be served in its entirety."

Johnson learned of the decision in a telephone conversation with his attorneys Melvin White, Seth Greenstein, Leah Domitrovic and Martha Hausman of McDermott, Will & Emery in Washington, D.C.

The attorneys had filed a habeas corpus petition in Anne Arundel Circuit Court alleging that the parole commission violated Johnson's rights to due process and equal protection when it denied him parole in 1991.

After hearing two days of testimony last week, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. made it clear that he was impressed by Johnson's self-rehabilitation. During his incarceration, Johnson has earned a general equivalency diploma and a bachelor's degree from Morgan State University.

"This man has strength, strength of purpose, strength of character, strength of dignity and I admire him very much," Judge Duckett said last Thursday. "This man is going to make it and, boy, do I wish him luck." But Judge Duckett postponed announcing his decision. He was to decide today.

The parole commission reached its decision during its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday. Johnson will go free in February, provided he completes at least 90 days work release.

Johnson and his brother, Melvin, were stopped June 16, 1978, for a traffic violation and taken to the Hyattsville police station for questioning in a theft case. Johnson, who later claimed that Officer Clagett started beating him, struggled with the officer, took his gun and started shooting.

In a statement released by his lawyers yesterday, Johnson said he was "grateful to the Parole Commission."

"I also would like to express my thanks to my family, the members of the community and the many legislators and community representatives who have worked so hard on my behalf over the years. They and I have waited a long time for this. With their help, I will do my best to justify their faith in me and in my future."

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