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Black Panther released from prison after four and a half decades

AUTODIDACT 17 | 3/6/2014, 10:22 a.m.
After negotiating a deal in Baltimore Circuit Court, Marshall “Eddie” Conway was released from a Maryland state penitentiary last Tuesday
Marshall “Eddie” Conway

After negotiating a deal in Baltimore Circuit Court, Marshall “Eddie” Conway was released from a Maryland state penitentiary this past Tuesday, citing the Unger v. State decision, under which the state’s Supreme Court ruled that jurors had been given improper instructions in certain cases tried before 1980.

Analysts suggested that hundreds of convictions could be affected by the 2012 appeal filed by convicted cop killer Merle Unger, who has since been retried and is currently incarcerated, serving a life sentence.

Under the agreement, Conway’s conviction stands, but he was resentenced to time served and will be on supervised probation for the next five years. Over a dozen people were released from prison last year due to the Unger decision, and officials say as many as 200 others could soon be freed.

Now 67, the former Baltimore Black Panther leader spent over four decades behind enemy lines after being convicted for the killing of Baltimore cop Donald Sager, 35, who was ambushed on April 21, 1970.

On Jan. 15, 1971, a Baltimore jury convicted Conway of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of assault with intent to murder Baltimore cops Stanley Sierakowski and Roger Nolan. He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 30 years.

Throughout the 1970s, numerous Baltimore cops were murdered while on duty. Decades later, some who were convicted for the cop killings are among a group who argued their rights were violated. Conway has always maintained his innocence, claiming he was framed, and denied participating in the attack. For years, there has been a campaign by supporters to get him pardoned.

Robert J. Boyle, one of Conway’s attorneys, said that the political prisoner of war “accepts this disposition, and he willingly went along with it.” He added that had his client decided to press his claim under the Unger decision, he could have mounted a strong defense during a retrial.

“It was an extremely weak case against him,” indicated Boyle, who has worked with numerous wrongfully convicted Black Panthers.

Conway’s emancipation from prison was met with opposition by Baltimore law enforcement agents.

“It’s a very difficult thing to learn, after all these years, that he’s not going to fulfill the sentence he was given, which was life,” said Gene Ryan, vice president of Baltimore’s Fraternal Order of Police.

Baltimore NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston released the following statement: “Today is a monumental day for the thousands of Marylanders and millions around the world that have championed the release of Marshall ‘Eddie’ Conway for a very long time. The release of Conway after four decades of imprisonment is an important page turner in this tragic story.

The Baltimore NAACP has been supporting Conway’s release for decades, and now a new chapter begins for Marshall ‘Eddie’ Conway, his family and supporters. Our prayers remain with him as he makes the transition to freedom.”