Veteran Black Panther Party leader Marshall Edward ("Eddie") Conway continues to maintain his innocence of a police murder in 1970, which he claims not to have committed. Currently incarcerated in Maryland House of Corrections in Jessup, Maryland, Eddie states that he was falsely implicated in the murder of one Baltimore City police officer and the assault and attempted murder of two other officers. Eddie states, "At no time in my life have I killed or attempted to kill anyone. I have no involvement with that incident. I'm innocent." Eddie claims to be the target of the local police and the F.B.I.'s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO),which was designed to destroy individuals and organizations that were considered to be politically objectionable. Eddie asserts that he is one of many political prisoners in the United States as a result of F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover's and Assistant Director William Sullivan's war against the Black Panther Party.

According to police accounts, shortly after 9:00 p.m. on the night of April 24, 1970, Officer Donald Sager and Officer Stanley Sierakowski responded to a domestic complaint. When they arrived at 1201 Myrtle Avenue they talked to a woman who said she was afraid of her abusive husband. After the investigation, the officers returned to their car to make out their report. While writing their report, three men walked past the patrol car. The woman who made the complaint signaled from her door for the officers to return to her home. Officer Sierakowski opened the door to get out, and a hail of gunfire hit their car from behind. Officer Sierakowski was shot four times in the stomach and in both hands. Officer Sager was shot in the head while still seated in the car. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Officer Sierakowski managed to reach the car radio and called for help.

Not far from the crime scene, Officer Roger Nolan and Officer James Welsh received a dispatch call and responded. Based on the information received about the direction in which the assailants fled, the officers went in pursuit of the suspects. According to their report, they apprehended two suspects on a lot across from Myrtle Avenue approximately four blocks from the crime scene. The officers handcuffed them and placed them in the back seat of their patrol car. The men were later released. Approximately three blocks away, near Freemont and Mosher Avenue, they noticed a man running into an alley. Officer Nolan left the patrol car on foot and pursued the man. Officer Nolan claims that as he turned the corner of the alley, the man shot at him and they exchanged fire. The man got away. A ballistics expert testified that eight of the bullets removed from Officers Sager and Sierakowski or found near the scene came from the same .45 pistol used to fire at officer Nolan.

At the same time, police apprehended two suspects approximately two blocks from where the officers were shot. Jack Johnson, Jr., and James Powell (both later identified as members of the Black Panther Party), were apprehended under the back porch of a house. Several rounds of ammunition and a .38 caliber handgun were found lying on the ground between the two suspects. The next morning, another gun, a .32 caliber pistol, was allegedly found at the arrest site concealed underneath a sandbox. A ballistics expert testified that a .38 caliber bullet was removed from the skull of Officer Sager. Powell was charged with murder in the first degree, and Johnson was charged with murder in the first degree, plus assault with the intent to murder.

Although there was no direct physical evidence to link Eddie with the events surrounding this case, a warrant was issued. On April 25, 1970, Eddie was arrested shortly after he reported to work at Baltimore's Main Post Office. According to the testimony of the arresting officer, the warrant was obtained based on information provided by an informer.

One attempt by the prosecution to make its case was to try to use one of the other defendants against Eddie. Jack Johnson, who was closely tied to the shootings by evidence, was alleged to have cut a deal with the state implicating Eddie in the crime. In return for his testimony, Jack was to receive complete immunity from prosecution. When Jack took the stand, he pleaded the Fifth Amendment.

In addressing this issue, court appointed public defender Attorney McAllister stated in his closing remarks, "You don't let a murderer go unless you're trying to get someone else". This attorney had been fired by Eddie, but Judge Harris demanded he remain as the defense attorney.

Another attempt at case building by the prosecution was based on the "stacked deck" identification made by Officer Nolan. Four days after the shootings, Officer Nolan was shown two groups of six to eight photographs. The first set contained a picture of Eddie that was taken six years earlier. The second set contained a picture taken of Eddie at the time of his arrest. Eddie's picture was the only picture that appeared in both sets.

To put the same person's picture in two small sets of shots could possibly influence and prejudice a person's decision. A line up is a probably a better means of identification. Because of the influence possible by the people showing the photos, photos should only be used if there's nothing else available. Eddie also says, "By the time you got the second photo of the same person, wouldn't you make the assumption that this is the photo you're supposed to identify?"

The most disputed piece of circumstantial evidence introduced by the prosecution was the testimony of a known jailhouse informer named Charles Reynolds. This informer was placed in Eddie's cell for four days. Reynolds was being transferred from Maryland House of Corrections in Jessup to the state of Michigan. There he would stand trial on previous forgery charges. For some reason, instead of a direct transfer to Michigan, Reynolds was placed in Eddie's cell at Baltimore City Jail some thirty miles away from Jessup.

Reynolds claims Eddie confessed to having taken part in the shootings and filled him in on the details. After Reynolds' transfer was completed, he sent a letter to the Baltimore City Police Department stating he had witnessed Eddie's confession. Reynolds asked for a favorable recommendation to the Michigan parole board in exchange for his testimony. Prosecuting attorney Ward and the chief investigator flew to Michigan to take Reynolds' statement. Reynolds told them that Eddie told him that the shooting of the police officers was an "initiation mission" ordered by the regional director of the Black Panther Party, Paul Coates. Reynolds went on telling details that could have been found in any Baltimore newspaper twice a day at that time. Reynolds claims Eddie said he disposed of the .45 caliber pistol in the harbor, returned home, and "put up watch" (this last statement was not explained). Prosecuting attorney Ward stated that he was convinced that Reynolds was a reliable source because the watch was never mentioned in the newspapers.

Eddie and many other people believe that Reynolds was deliberately placed in his cell. Eddie claims he knew he was an informer because the word had come to him through the prison grapevine. Eddie says, "I would not have given Reynolds the time of day and surely no conversation about my pending case. One thing all Panthers studied was the law, entrapment and underhanded police tactics." Eddie states, "Since they planted him in my cell to make a case against me, it would stand to reason that they fed him the information they wanted him to know, like a "smoking watch." Eddie also said, "When they first came up with the indictment, the watch thing was never mentioned."

Unlike the prosecution, Eddie was never able to present his case. At the beginning of the trial, Eddie fired his first lawyer, Nelson Kandel. Eddie says, "Mr. Kandel wanted to handle my trial as a criminal trial, and I wanted it to be handled just as it truly was, a political railroad." Judge Harris appointed public defender McAllister to handle Eddie's case. Eddie fired him and requested the court to allow Attorney Arthur Turco, who was at the time of the request Eddie's cell mate, to represent him. Arthur Turco was awaiting a decision on his own case and asked that bail be set for his pretrial release. Judge Harris denied Eddie's request and McAllister stayed on as his assigned lawyer. Eddie then filed a petition in court asking that his trial be halted on grounds that Judge Harris failed to allow him the Attorney of his choice.

In light of the judge's decision, Eddie requested to represent himself. Judge Harris granted him his request but insisted that Mr. McAllister remain at the defense table to assist Eddie if he needed advice. As a result, Eddie felt he was not being given the right to a fair trial and refused to take part in the trial because he says he was being railroaded. Eddie only returned to the courtroom to protest and demand a new trial and then ask to be returned to his cell. Eddie did not participate in his defense and was denied a request to make his own closing arguments.

"I thought that any defense I put forth would be fruitless because it was clear to me - in the frame of mind I was in - that America and Maryland did not wish to really have a fair trail. I was under the impression now that the attorney general of the United States, who was John Mitchell at the time, had decided that this chapter [of the Black Panthers] was to be eradicated, and that we were the victims of that program... I know I sort of blew my opportunity to have a trial, but my position was that I never had an opportunity to have a fair trial in the first place."

Eddie says he has an alibi and can account for his whereabouts at the time the crimes were committed. He declines to make a public statement because he feels that the place for that discussion is in front of a jury when he gets a new trial.

Marshall Eddie Conway Flier
See the Marshal Eddie Conway Support Committee Homepage