Controversial parolee kills himself after bank robbery Terrence G. Johnson was imprisoned for slaying of 2 policemen

February 28, 1997|By Robert A. Erlandson and Jay Apperson | Robert A. Erlandson and Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF News researcher Jean Packard and staff writers Candus Thomson, John Rivera, Peter Hermann, Melody Simmons and Ellen Gamerman contributed to this article.

Terrence G. Johnson, paroled amid controversy in 1995 after serving nearly 17 years in the slayings of two Prince George's County police officers, shot himself to death yesterday moments after robbing an Aberdeen bank with his brother, police said.

The shooting, which came as police closed in near the NationsBank branch at Beards Hill Plaza, shocked those who knew Johnson as a model former prisoner. And it brought tears at the University of the District of Columbia law school, where, until recently, he had been a second-year student.

But the violent end came as no surprise to some relatives of the officers slain years ago.

"I knew it was going to happen," said Blanche Claggett, mother of Officer Albert M. Claggett IV, whose gun Johnson used in the 1978 slayings. "You don't change the stripes."

She added: "We've lived through a nightmare through all these years. People asked me if I'd thought about whether Johnson could turn his life around and I said, 'No, I couldn't care less.' My son couldn't turn his life around and come back."

Police said the bank robbery began about 9: 30 a.m. yesterday when two armed men walked into the bank.

Klein's Supermarket Manager Chuck Cross was in the bank making a deposit, and was about to leave when the men, wearing brown trench coats and black knit caps, entered. One carried a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and the other a knife with a 12-inch blade.

One man put a small box on the floor and said, "I've got a bomb here. If anyone calls the police or comes outside after us, we're going to blow the place up," Cross said. The men made profane demands for money, he said.

After tellers turned over an undetermined amount of money, the men ran from the bank, leaving the package on the counter, police said. Officers spotted two suspects running along Barnett Lane, a dead-end, one-lane road lined with homes, and stopped them.

Ron Cullum, 39, who was washing dishes in his nearby mobile home, heard shouting and ran outside to his screened porch. He saw an Aberdeen police officer leaving his car with his pistol drawn and shouting, "Halt!"

The two men continued to walk away from the officer, Cullum said. "It was like they was just taking a walk through the park, so to speak. It wasn't like they robbed a bank or nothing."

The officer repeated his command to halt, and one man stopped after walking about 10 more feet, Cullum said. The other kept walking, stopped about 150 feet from the officer and "pulled his own revolver out and shot himself," Cullum said.

The man left standing then shouted, "Please don't shoot me! Please don't shoot me!" As police officers closed in, he dropped to the ground, Cullum said.

Dead at the scene

Terrence Johnson, 34, of Langley Park was pronounced dead at the scene.

Darryl B. Johnson, 35, of Baltimore was taken to police headquarters, where he was charged with bank robbery, three counts of first-degree assault and four counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony. He was being held last night in lieu of $150,000 bail at the Harford County Detention Center. He will appear this afternoon before a Harford County District Court judge for a bail review hearing.

The state fire marshal's bomb disposal unit examined the package the robbers left at the bank and found it was an empty box.

Terrence Johnson -- whose 34th birthday was yesterday -- had spent nearly half his life behind bars for the June 26, 1978, shooting of Claggett, 26, and Officer James Swart, 25, at the Hyattsville police station.

From the start, the case had strong racial overtones. Johnson was black; the two officers were white. And Johnson, who was 15, said the officers were beating him while questioning him about a petty theft. He said he snatched the gun of one officer and fired because he feared for his life.

His testimony struck a chord in Prince George's County, where the Police Department had been criticized over allegations of brutality and racism.

He was convicted of one count of voluntary manslaughter and using a handgun in the commission of a felony, the death of Claggett. He was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity in Swart's death.

He received the maximum sentence -- 10 years for the manslaughter plus 15 years for the handgun conviction -- but soon sought to rehabilitate his reputation.

During his 16 years and seven months' imprisonment, he earned a bachelor's degree from Morgan State University, and certificates in barbering and computer science. And he counseled other inmates.

He was denied parole four times between 1987 and 1991, and the parole commission said in July 1991 that public sentiment against his release was so strong that he should expect to serve the full sentence. Police officers in Prince George's County, in particular, opposed his appeals for parole.

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