xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Man convicted of shooting six Baltimore police officers in 1976, killing one, scheduled for new trial

John Earl Williams allegedly wanted to impress his ex-girlfriend when he called Baltimore police to state his plans for Good Friday in 1976. The 18-year-old loaded a rifle with armor-piercing bullets, took aim from the window of his Hollins Market rowhouse, and opened fire on the streets below.

He shot six Baltimore police officers, killing one, a young father, before surrendering after about a 40-minute barrage that became known as the "Good Friday Shooting." Now, 41 years later, Williams' murder conviction has been vacated, and he is scheduled for a new trial in early 2018.

Advertisement

The 59-year-old serving a life sentence for murder was granted a new trial under the Unger ruling of 2012. In the ruling, Maryland's highest court questioned the fairness of jury instructions in trials before 1980. The ruling brought sweeping consequences to decades-old murder cases.

Dennis Wise, an alleged Baltimore hit man, was released from prison this summer under the Unger ruling. Wise has maintained his innocence. In March last year, a 1966 murder conviction was vacated against Charles Scott. He had served 50 years of his life sentence for murder. Baltimore prosecutors have struck Unger deals with more than 100 prisoners, saying it's difficult to retry old cases after memories fade, evidence is missing, and witnesses have died.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Williams, however, will return to court to stand trial on the murder charge stemming from the April 16, 1976, incident. His new trial is scheduled for Jan. 8, and he remains in prison.

Retired officers and grieving family members have gathered over the years, remembering the chaos that evening and 31-year-old James Halcomb, the father of two young girls, who was shot in his neck and killed.

Halcomb's family could not be reached Wednesday, but his widow wrote of the Unger ruling on the Officer Down Memorial Page website. Also police officers wrote that they have sent letters over the years urging the courts to keep Williams imprisoned without parole.

"This has taken a toll on my family and me," Angie Halcomb wrote. "I am so thankful for all of the many active and retired law enforcement that have been there for me in court and in prayers."

Advertisement

The shooting led to the formation of the SWAT team, which Baltimore police officials had been reluctant to form, retired police Lt. Charles Key wrote online.

Key detailed the attack in an account online titled, "39 Minutes of Terror." The attack forever changed the Baltimore police, he wrote, and the families of the victims.

Williams had served in the National Guard and stockpiled an arsenal of weapons, including a high-powered rifle and shotgun, Key wrote. Nearly 200 officers rushed to the scene after radio calls warned of policemen under fire.

Halcomb took cover behind a parked car when a bullet tore through the vehicle and killed him. Police shot out the streetlights to conceal their positions. Still, the gunman kept firing, wounding a civilian and five more officers: James Brennan, Art Kennel, Neal Splain, Calvin Mencken and Roland Miller.

A radio transcript of the night was published online by Key. It reveals the chaos as an officer called for help.

"My partner's hit down here. Get me an ambo … Please get me the ambo down here now."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement