Lawyer is boss, friend, family to client on eve of parole GOOD COUNSEL

January 25, 1995|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

The article stated incorrectly that club owner Nicholas Mangione was sued in the case and settled for an undisclosed sum. No lawsuit was ever filed. Rather, Mr. Mangione reached an agreement with a group of community leaders to dismiss the employee and have his other workers take sensitivity training.

The article also may have inadvertently implied that Mr. Mangione condoned the actions of his employee. In fact, he learned of the remarks after the fact and condemned them at a news conference.

* The Sun regrets the error.

Charles Jerome Ware knew he'd take the case almost as soon as he met Terrence Johnson inside an Eastern Shore prison.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

It was July 1990, and Johnson had already spent nearly 12 years in prison in connection with the shooting deaths of two Prince George's County police officers. He was only 16 when he went to jail. But he stood up when Mr. Ware walked into the room, looked the Columbia lawyer squarely in the eye, and shook his hand with the firm confidence of a law colleague. Mr. Ware was astonished by his poise.

"I've seen inmates coming out, shuffling through. But he was gracious, elegant, courteous," Mr. Ware says. "He made me feel at ease. He showed none of that baggage that one gets in jail."

Johnson had himself a lawyer. And not just any lawyer.

Charles Jerome Ware was then general counsel for the Maryland NAACP. Though much of his experience was in antitrust cases, he had made a name for himself in Howard County taking on high-profile, racially charged cases.

Johnson's case -- a young black man fighting for parole after being convicted of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of two white police officers -- was made to order for the bespectacled lawyer.

"I felt tremendously honored that he would do this," says Johnson, 31, who is expected to be released next month. "If he felt a great sense of ease with me, then it was very much mutual."

At the time, neither knew how intertwined their lives would become. But as Mr. Ware fought for Johnson's freedom, their relationship became more like father and son than lawyer and client.

It's not just that Mr. Ware agreed to take Johnson's case for free -- plenty of attorneys do pro bono work.

It's not just that Mr. Ware believed in his client so much that he decided, if necessary, to be a character witness for him. It's not just that he gave Johnson a job clerking in his law office -- thus assuring that all Johnson's work-release requirements were satisfied.

It's this: When Terrence Johnson is released from prison next month, he will move into Mr. Ware's home in Columbia and live there as long as he needs a place to stay.

"People have said, 'It's a tremendous thing you are doing,' " says Mr. Ware, 46. "But I don't think so. It was a very easy choice."

An easy choice, maybe. But other inmates shouldn't come knocking on Mr. Ware's door expecting the same treatment.

"I have never done this before and I will never, ever do it again," he says. "I want to make that clear."

So why did he do it this time? Why accept a case that drains all your time and energy? Why open your heart and home to an inmate who did, after all, shoot two police officers in a case that shocked and divided Prince George's County?

The answer, says Mr. Ware, is that Terrence Johnson is not a threat to anyone. He should have been released a long time ago.

"He has abided by all of the rules. He had a perfect case for parole," Mr. Ware says. "It is racism and politics that is keeping him there because this is a high-profile case. That's all."

But others see Johnson as a remorseless cop killer who deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail. Prince George's police groups and the victims' families say Johnson should never be paroled.

"The pain is still fresh and the pain is still deep . . .," reads a press release issued by the Prince George's police department on the parole.

The day that changed Johnson's life -- June 26, 1978 -- began when his 18-year-old brother, Melvin, stole about $30 from a laundry machine. He picked up Terrence, then 15, a short time later, and the two headed for the Queens Chapel Drive-In in their father's car. But Melvin forgot to turn on the car lights.

They passed a police officer, who pulled the car over when he flashed his lights and got no response. The Johnson brothers were taken to the Hyattsville police station after officers spotted tools and change in the back of the car.

At the trial, Terrence Johnson contended he was kicked and beaten by the county police, who had a fearsome reputation for brutality toward blacks. (The police denied the allegations.) Then Johnson was taken to a small room by Officer Albert M. Claggett IV.

Grabbed the gun

Johnson testified that the officer slammed him around and kneed him in the stomach. In the confusion, he grabbed Officer Claggett's gun and pulled the trigger.

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