Marshall "Eddie" Conway

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Marshall "Eddie" Conway
Born (1946-04-23) April 23, 1946 (age 71)
Citizenship USA
Organization Black Panther Party
Criminal charge Murder
Criminal penalty Life (later changed to time served and probation)
Criminal status Probation, after serving 43 years and 11 months of imprisonment

Marshall "Eddie" Conway (born April 23, 1946) was the Minister of Defense of the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party who in 1971 was convicted of murder of a police officer a year earlier, in a trial with many irregularities. In 2014 he was released on parole, after an appellate court ruled that his jury had been given improper instructions.[citation needed]

Background[edit]

In addition to his position in the Black Panther Party, Conway was also employed by the United States Postal Service. He was unaware that some of the founding members of the Baltimore chapter of the Party were actually undercover officers at the Baltimore Police Department who reported daily on his activities at the chapter. At the same time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had also started its own investigation of Conway, recording his whereabouts, contacting his employers at the Post Office and maintaining contact with the Baltimore Police Department.[1]

BPD shooting[edit]

On the night of April 21, 1970, Baltimore Police Officers Donald Sager and Stanley Sierakowski were shot by three assailants who fired at least eight rounds at the officers during their response to a domestic disturbance call. Officer Sager was killed and Officer Sierakowski was critically wounded.[1][2][3] About an hour later, Officers James Welsh and Roger Nolan arrested two men near the scene of the shooting, based on information they received over police radio.[3][4] The men were Jackie Powell and Jack Ivory Johnson, and two pistols were found near the location where they were hiding. The police determined that these two men, Powell and Ivory Johnson, knew members of the Baltimore Black Panther Party chapter or were affiliated with it.[5]

Immediately after contact with the two men, Officer Nolan briefly chased a black man on foot and tried to make contact with him. The man then fired several shots at Nolan and escaped. Nolan stated that he had previously seen this man on his assigned beat and could recognize him, but he did not know his name.[3] Based on the affiliation of the two suspects with the Black Panther Party, Nolan was shown two photo line-ups of party members. In the first line-up, Nolan claimed that a picture of Conway, taken seven years earlier in 1963, resembled the shooter. In the second line-up, which used a current photograph of Conway, Nolan positively identified Conway as the individual who had shot at him.[3] Welsh also positively identified Conway as the man whom Nolan had chased.

The next day, Conway was arrested while working at the Post Office. Following an investigation where the ballistics of both shootings were determined to match, Conway was charged with both the murder of Officer Sager and the attempted murders of Officers Sierakowski and Nolan. Conway was working during the time of the shooting and his supervisor at the Post Office verified his alibi, but this did not change his conviction.[3] One of the weapons found with Powell and Johnson was also matched through ballistics testing to the murder of Officer Sager.[4]

Black Panther Party member Jack Ivory Johnson was released from Prison on May 2010.

Trial[edit]

Conway appealed to the court to be represented by either Charles Garry or William Kunstler, two attorneys who consistently represented party members. Both lawyers had offered their services free of charge. However, the court denied Conway’s request and appointed a lawyer who performed no pre-trial investigation and never met with Conway. Therefore, Conway chose to absent himself from much of his January 1971 trial.[6]

Before the trial, Johnson had confessed to the police, naming Powell and Conway as the ones who shot Officers Sager and Sierakowski.[7] According to court testimony, Johnson stated he fired into the air because "I didn't have the heart to kill the pig."[7] But later, Johnson refused to testify against Conway and claimed his statement was coerced.[1]

The state’s case was based partially on photo identification by Officer Nolan. To strengthen its case, the state called Charles Reynolds, a known jailhouse informant. He testified that while he shared a cell with Conway before the trial, Conway confessed to him. However, as was verified by the court transcript, Conway had protested greatly when Reynolds was placed in his cell because everyone knew he was an informant.[1] One of the points that proved key to the truthfulness of Reynolds was that Reynolds was told by Conway that he had taken Officer Sierakowski's watch, a fact that was not released by the police during the investigation.[8]

Finally, the ballistic evidence connecting the weapons to the murders also played a significant role in the trial. After hearing all the evidence, the jury convicted Conway of the murder, and both he and Powell were sentenced to life in prison. Both men appealed but the appellate court upheld the convictions.[3][4]

Controversy[edit]

There are several controversies involving the trial and conviction of Conway. The trial took place just two years after the 1968 Baltimore riot, the use of the photo line-up was questioned and the reliability of the jailhouse informant was brought up.[1][6][9] In addition, Conway fired two lawyers, the first (Nelson Kandel) over trial strategy differences and the second one that was appointed to represent him and who Conway refused to cooperate with.[6] Conway requested that his cellmate, attorney Arthur Turco, be appointed to represent him. Turco requested bail to be able to do so, but both of these requests were denied.[10] Conway claims to have been a political prisoner.

Imprisonment[edit]

During his imprisonment, Conway earned three college degrees, started a literacy program, and was an "exemplary" prisoner.[6] During the entire time, Conway maintained his innocence.[9] Conway's supporters have called him one of the country’s longest-held political prisoners.[11] While incarcerated, Conway tried to organize prison unions[11] and organized a prison library.[11]

In February 2001, the Baltimore City Council passed a resolution urging the Governor of Maryland to pardon Conway, over the strident protests of police officers.[12][8] Conway has written a book on his life, Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther,[13] that was released on April 4, 2011.

Release[edit]

After an appellate court ruled that his jury had been given improper instructions, state prosecutors agreed to change his life sentence to time served and probation, and Conway was released from prison on March 4, 2014[14] after having served 43 years and 11 months.[11]

He is currently a producer at The Real News[15] and hosts the show Rattling the Bars.[16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e James, Joy, ed. (2007). Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. pp. 96–99. ISBN 0-8223-3923-4. 
  2. ^ Hermann, Peter (June 30, 2009). "I Can't Believe We've Lost Our Way". Baltimore Sun. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Conway v. State, 289 A.2d 862 (Md. Spec. App. 1972).
  4. ^ a b c Powell v. State of Maryland, 299 A.2d 454 (Md. Spec. App. 1973).
  5. ^ Royster-Hemby, Christina (February 8, 2006). "Fighting the Power: The Black Panther Party in Baltimore: The Second of a Two-Part Series". Baltimore City Paper. 
  6. ^ a b c d Hughes, William C. (2002). Baltimore Iconoclast. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc. pp. 190–192. ISBN 0-595-21551-3. 
  7. ^ a b Willis, Laurie (December 5, 2002), "Judge affirms 1972 life term ; He refuses to free radical jailed for killing officer", Baltimore Sun 
  8. ^ a b Kane, Gregory (April 4, 2001), "City Council Should Check the Facts on Officer's Killer", Baltimore Sun 
  9. ^ a b Jones, Charles Earl, ed. (1998). The Black Panther Party (Reconsidered). Baltimore: Black Classic Press. p. 426. ISBN 0-933121-96-2. 
  10. ^ Staff. "Eddie Conway". Anarchist Black Cross Federation. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Exclusive: Freed Ex-Black Panther Marshall "Eddie" Conway on 44 Years in Prison & FBI Surveillance". Democracy Now!. 
  12. ^ Hermann, Peter (March 29, 2001), "Baltimore Council's Pardon Bid Protested: Attempt to Help Man Convicted in Officer's Death Upsets City Police Union", Baltimore Sun 
  13. ^ Conway, Marshall "Eddie" (2011). Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther. Oakland, CA: AK Press. ISBN 1-84935-022-1. 
  14. ^ "Ex-Black Panther leader, convicted of killing cop, released from prison". The Baltimore Sun. March 4, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Why Eddie Conway Joined the Real News". The Real News. November 29, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Rattling the Bars with Eddie Conway". The Real News. 

External links[edit]