ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Parole Commission has unanimously denied Terrence Johnson's latest appeal for freedom, meaning the 28-year-old killer of two Prince George's policemen is likely to spend the rest of this century behind bars.
Johnson has already served 12 years of a 25-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and illegal use of a handgun in the 1978 slaying of Officer Albert M. Claggett in a Hyattsville police station. Johnson also was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity in the killing of Officer James B. Swart during the same incident.
Johnson's 1979 trial sharply divided Prince George's County along racial lines. Johnson, who is black, contended he was being beaten by the white officers and killed them in self-defense. The two men were killed with Officer Claggett's gun.
But the Maryland Parole Commission informed Johnson yesterday his request for parole has been denied, a decision that means no future parole hearings for him will be held, said Susan G. Kaskie, a spokeswoman for the commission.
"Once you have been denied, you don't get any other opportunities for a parole hearing," she said. With credit for "good time" or for taking vocational or other self-help programs, Johnson could be released sometime in 1999, she said. Since his arrest as a 15-year-old Bladensburg Junior High School ninth-grader, Johnson has earned a high school diploma and a college degree while in prison.
The final decision came on Johnson's fourth parole hearing; three previous hearings concluded with decisions merely to hold a subsequent hearing. The fourth hearing was initially held in February before two commissioners and then was reconvened in May before the entire seven-member commission, which includes four white members and three black.
Because the case is still politically and racially sensitive, the commission's decision was announced yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Ms. Kaskie said the case has prompted "hundreds" of letters from both sides: supporters who believe Johnson has already served a greater percentage of his sentence than most Maryland inmates serve; and by police organizations and members of the victims' families who urged the commission to keep Johnson behind bars.
Johnson's lawyer, Charles Ware, said he was "shocked, disappointed and disgusted with the Maryland Parole Commission. This decision was a 180-degree contrast to where we knew the commission was just a few weeks ago."
Mr. Ware in the past has publicly charged that Bishop L. Robinson, the state secretary for public safety and correctional services and a former Baltimore police commissioner, personally intervened in the case and may have overruled the Parole Commission's decision to grant parole.
The lawyer also complained that the decision to deny Johnson a future parole hearing was "arbitrary and punitive," and would force Johnson to go to court to request a hearing. Ms. Kaskie, however, denied Mr. Robinson was involved in the Johnson case.