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Down for count, he's still fighting

Reggie Gross was a promising boxer in Baltimore in the '80s before his bout with drugs ended with three life sentences for murders he says he didn't commit.

November 06, 2001|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,SUN STAFF

But Niemeyer did something unusual, going beyond the prosecutors' recommendation and giving Gross a sentence of three life terms - two of them to run consecutively. "You fell from a most promising career as a boxer," Niemeyer told him. "Unfortunately, you elected a life in which you would pursue some of the most brutal crimes."

Gross should be eligible for parole for the first time in about eight years.

His final record as a professional fighter was 19 wins, eight losses.

Prison life

His drug-dealing pal, "Wimpy," was shot to death in 1986. So was another Boardley operative Gross knew as "Shorty." One of the victims of the September 1986 westside war, Alan Downer, has been a quadriplegic since he and his brother were shot in an assassination attempt. Boardley went away for 47 years, with a judge recommending he serve 40 before being eligible for parole. Other gang members went to prison, with sentences ranging from eight to 18 years. Some who cooperated with the investigation got life sentences with recommendations for early eligibility for parole.

In prison, Gross has earned a high school equivalency certificate, learned to operate a forklift, completed a course in pest control and attended numerous counseling programs, including one for drug abuse. He's taken part in "scared straight"-type sessions with at-risk teen-agers from South Carolina and Georgia. His team won the prison basketball championship.

Mack Lewis, accompanied by Pettway, made the last visit to Gross, and that was years ago, during his stint in Atlanta.

His two youngest daughters visited Gross in 1992, when he was housed at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa. None of the girls has seen him since, and Edgefield is a long trip from Baltimore. Gross hopes for transfer to a prison closer to his hometown.

"I get frustrated," he said quietly. "I wanna talk with my kids. I wanna talk with my family. I can't do all this time."

In a letter from prison last summer, Gross wrote: "I have contact with my mother, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, even the 18 new ones that were born since I've been in prison. I love them all dearly, though I don't call that much. When I do call, they all ask the same thing: `When are you coming home? We love you and we miss you.' "

He watches television and follows sports. "Anything from Baltimore I root for," he said, and that includes the reigning world heavyweight champion, Rahman.

"Hasim has a good punch. ... I told everyone here he was going to beat [Lennox Lewis]," Gross said. "I stayed up all night waiting to hear the decision on my radio. When I heard the decision, I felt good for him, his family and the city of Baltimore."

He watched video replays of Rahman's victory on television.

"I like what I saw. What I want Hasim to do is work on his stomach. I saw him get hit in the gut, and he was almost like Larry Holmes. When he got hit in the gut, he spit out water. Got to work on his stomach."

Gross sent that training advice to Rahman in a congratulatory card he mailed to Mack Lewis' house. He asked the world champ for an autographed photo, something he could hang in his prison cell. He hasn't heard back.

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