Baltimore council's pardon bid protested

Attempt to help man convicted in officer's death upsets city police union

March 29, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A City Council resolution urging Gov. Parris N. Glendening to pardon a man convicted of killing a police officer is sparking complaints from the police union, whose president wants lawmakers to publicly apologize.

"I demand that the City Council take immediate action to rescind this resolution in order to avoid exposing the wounds of our Fallen Heroes," wrote Officer Gary McLhinney, the union president, in a letter to the bill's sponsor, Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr. "The actions of the City Council are so egregious."

Council members who voted last month to urge a pardon for former Black Panther member Marshall "Eddie" Conway say he is a political prisoner innocent of murder.

They call the case circumstantial and question the integrity of a jailhouse informant who testified that Conway described the shooting to him.

"The union is entitled to its opinion," Handy said. "I'm simply expressing mine. He was convicted on at best spurious evidence."

Conway, who has been imprisoned for three decades, is serving a life sentence in the Maryland House of Corrections in Jessup for his purported role in leading an April 1970 ambush of two city police officers in a patrol car in the 1200 block of Myrtle Ave., in West Baltimore's Upton neighborhood.

Officer Donald Sager was killed, and Officer Stanley Sierakowski was wounded. Sierakowski died about 10 years ago.

Conway has denied a role in the shootings and has suggested that he was targeted by police because of his role in the militant movement.

The Black Panthers was a black militant group in the 1960s and 1970s.

The resolution passed with 16 votes and three abstentions March 5 after a failed bid by state Del. Clarence Davis to pass a similar measure in Annapolis last month.

Davis, a friend of Conway's since the 1960s, said he is seeking the pardon because "30 years is long enough. ... He is a political prisoner."

Handy conceded that the council resolution has a slim chance of getting the governor's attention. Glendening has received 192 pardon petitions since he took office in January 1995. His spokeswoman said he has granted 87, but none of those recipients was incarcerated at the time.

Police concluded that Baltimore's Black Panther party had orchestrated the ambush as an initiation rite for new members and that Conway had led the attack. Two other men also were convicted in the shootings.

An informant, Charles Reynolds, who had shared a cell with Conway at the city jail, later wrote police that Conway had taken a watch from one of the officers - a detail that had not been publicly revealed - and had thrown a gun into the harbor.

Officer Roger W. Nolan, who joined the force in 1967, was at the scene moments after the shooting and reported seeing a gunman run into a nearby alley. Nolan chased and exchanged gunfire with him. The man escaped.

Nolan later identified the man as Conway. A ballistics expert testified at the trial that eight bullets removed from the officers and found at the scene were from the same type of .45-caliber handgun that Nolan said was fired at him.

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