Lawyers spar in opening of Conyers trial


The gunshots started only minutes after Clarence Conyers Jr. and Lawrence Bradshaw left a female friend's home in Lansdowne nearly 10 years ago and walked into the dark early morning.

Before a quarter-hour had passed, Conyers was back at the woman's doorstep and Bradshaw was bleeding in the street from six gunshot wounds.

Now, almost a decade later, prosecutors and defense attorneys say Conyers shot Bradshaw Oct. 23, 1994. But the reason he did so is hotly contested -- and likely will prove key when a Baltimore County jury decides next week whether Conyers, 35, murdered two people and whether he should be sentenced to death.

In opening statements in Conyers' trial -- the second capital trial Conyers has had in this case -- Assistant State's Attorney John Cox said that Conyers killed Bradshaw because Bradshaw was going to implicate him in another slaying, that of 44-year-old Wanda Johnson.

Johnson, the mother of Conyers' former girlfriend, was shot less than two days earlier during a burglary at her home. Prosecutors say Conyers and Bradshaw committed that crime together.

At first, Cox said, the killings of Bradshaw and Johnson seemed unconnected. But then, Conyers' cellmate told police that Conyers, while waiting in jail for trial in the Bradshaw murder, admitted killing Johnson.

"Then it all started falling into place," Cox said.

But defense attorney William B. Purpura said prosecutors have "a basic lack of evidence," and that Conyers had nothing to do with Johnson's death. Purpura said the cellmate, Charles Johnson, lied about Conyers to get a light sentence in his case.

"He is a cooperator, he is a snitch, he is an absolute, professional liar," Purpura said.

Purpura said his client was upset when he learned Bradshaw had killed the mother of his ex-girlfriend, a woman with whom he had lived until a week earlier. The early morning of Oct. 23, Purpura said, Conyers confronted Bradshaw about the killing, as well as Bradshaw's relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

The two men struggled. During that struggle, he said, Conyers shot Bradshaw.

Those two theories likely will shape Conyers' trial, which is scheduled to last through next week. If jury members find him guilty of the two killings, they will then decide whether to sentence him to death.

Conyers has been convicted of the killings, and has been sentenced to death twice before in the same case -- once after the original trial, once after the Maryland Court of Appeals gave him a new sentencing hearing.

But last year, the Court of Appeals set the stage for this week's trial when it overturned Conyers' 1996 conviction, saying prosecutors should have disclosed more information about Johnson, the cellmate, to defense attorneys.

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