According to The Herald-Mail, Unger holed up in the basement of a nearby home. The residents said their cat "was acting funny for quite a while, running back and forth in the room and jumping up in the kitchen window to look out."

They heard noises, too, and alerted police, who found blood outside the cellar and Unger inside. He was unconscious from a gunshot wound, court documents say, and had nearly $2,000 in cash, checks and money orders.

Before his trial, he and another prisoner escaped by cutting a hole in their cell. Unger took off for Orlando, Fla., where he was arrested for stealing two loaded pistols from the Trailways Lounge and extradited.

Unger was found guilty in November 1976 of first-degree murder.

In 1981, Unger escaped again. He and two other inmates used a makeshift knife to overpower a maintenance worker at the Patuxent Institution. The Sun reported that they stole the keys to a dump truck, apparently were let out by a guard who mistook them for staff, and drove away.

Unger fled to Clearwater, Fla., where he was picked up again for assault and armed burglary and sentenced to 30 years. He was imprisoned in Florida in 1990 when he escaped again. He was caught eight days later in Strasburg, Va.

Unger eventually returned to a Maryland prison to pursue a series of appeals. He left behind a wife, Vicki, whom he had married in 1988 after she paid $5 for his address through a prisoners correspondence club, his attorney told The Sun in 1990. They had two children together.

Neither Vicki Unger nor their children could be reached for comment.

In 2007, a Washington County judge heard his appeal. A circuit judge granted a new trial the next year, but prosecutors challenged that decision. It took another five years for the state's top court to issue its ruling.

Prisoners released in other cases affected by the ruling had less chaotic records than Unger's, a factor that Baltimore prosecutors say they weigh heavily when deciding who they might let go.

For example, Jerome Washington, convicted of first-degree murder in 1976 and incarcerated since 1977, had not broken prison rules since 1984, according to documents prepared ahead of his release. Washington was on work release in 1993 when a change in state policy called inmates with life sentences back to prison.

When Unger is sentenced again in October, dozens of retired and active Hagerstown officers are expected to line the courtroom in a show of support for Kline. The state's attorney's office will once again seek a life sentence.

"This case has been incredibly important to a lot of people in Hagerstown," said Michael, the prosecutor. "I never want to lose sight of the tragic loss of Officer Kline's life in the line of duty — and the many, many victims and survivors of tragedy that this could affect."

Baltimore Sun research librarian Paul M. McCardell contributed to this article.