Baltimore City Council urges pardon for former Black Panther (possible
The Baltimore Sun
April 8, 2001 Sunday FINAL EDITION
Supporters of a pardon think lie sent man to prison
BY: GREGORY KANE
CHARLES REYNOLDS lied through his teeth. He lied so slickly, so slyly, so
completely that were there a Prevaricator's Hall
of Fame, Reynolds would be the poster boy for it and the charter member.
George Washington or Honest Abe Lincoln he
wasn't. So saith supporters of Marshall "Eddie" Conway.
To briefly recap: Reynolds was the chief prosecution witness in the trial
of Conway, a former Black Panther Party member
who was convicted of murdering Officer Donald Sager and wounding Officer
Stanley Sierakowski in April 1970. Conway was
sentenced to life in prison, has served 31 years and is now in the Maryland
House of Corrections at Jessup.
In early March, City Councilman Norman Handy - backed by several of his
colleagues - passed a resolution urging Gov. Parris
Glendening to pardon Conway. In Wednesday's column, Sager's widow,
Fraternal Order of Police President Gary McLhinney
and Peter Ward, who prosecuted Conway, expressed their disagreement with
the resolution. They're convinced of Conway's
Others are just as convinced of Conway's innocence. Paul Coates is one of
them, and he insists that Reynolds lied on the stand.
Now a book publisher, Coates was formerly the captain of the Baltimore
chapter of the Black Panther Party. He said he
knows, for certain, of one lie Reynolds told on the stand. Coates said last
week that he knows because the lie was about him.
"Reynolds testified that Eddie told him he, Jack Ivory Johnson and James
Powell shot the officers as part of a Panther initiation
rite, on my orders," Coates recalled. The problem with that, Coates
contends, is that he was not only not the captain of the
Baltimore BPP in April 1970, he wasn't even in the organization.
"I was a community organizer," Coates said of his activities then. He was,
though, a Panther sympathizer and attended a
meeting in New York that summer to tell BPP officials about the many
Panthers who had been arrested here, including John
Clark, the captain at the time of the Sager-Sierakowski shooting. Party
officials promptly appointed Coates captain. Suspecting
Conway was getting railroaded, Coates attended his trial every day. He was
in court when Reynolds fingered him as the brains
behind the massacre.
"Can you imagine being in court," Coates asked, "and having someone,
completely out of the blue, accuse you of giving that
There was no such order, Coates maintained when the defense called him to
the stand, and maintains to this day (he has never
been charged in connection with the shooting), and there certainly was no
BPP cop-killing initiation rite, another charge that
was part of Reynolds' testimony. Coates dismissed all of Reynolds'
statements as lies, including the incriminating bit in which
Conway supposedly told Reynolds about removing Sierakowski's watch after he
was shot. Ward says the fact that Reynolds
knew that detail means that Conway told him. Coates thinks Reynolds got
that information the same way he got other details
about the case - from prosecutors and police.
Coates made a plea to all those who believe Conway is guilty to review the
facts and see if they pass the smell test, especially
the series of events that led up to Reynolds' testimony that seem, at best,
Reynolds' testimony matched exactly what Johnson, one of Conway's
co-defendants, told police in a confession. Johnson later
said the confession was obtained by coercion and torture. When he was
brought to court, Johnson clammed up. Prosecutors
couldn't pry his lips open with a crowbar. He refused to say anything about
But by a happy coincidence, Reynolds, in a prison cell out in Michigan
where he was serving time for passing bad checks, had
an epiphany and just happened to remember every detail of things Conway
supposedly told him when they were cellmates at
the city jail in May 1970. Reynolds said Conway told him about the
initiation rite, that Coates ordered the shooting, that
Conway provided marijuana and cough syrup to Johnson and Powell so they
could get high. Conway opened up to a complete
stranger and told him vital information that could get him sent to death
row or imprisoned for life. Coates didn't describe
Conway as a genius, but he doubts that Conway or any other human being
could be that stupid.
Brunetta Ajide, who was in the BPP at the same time Conway was, agrees with
"I think he deserves (a pardon)," Ajide said. "I do not think he shot that
policeman. He had too much to lose. He worked at
the post office. He wasn't the type to kill. And I can't see him telling
the other inmate he did it."
As for the cop-killing initiation? Ajide said she joined the BPP simply by
filling out an application, the same way hundreds of
others did. She and Coates wonder why, with all the police informants and
undercover agents rife within the BPP, Baltimore's
prosecutors found it necessary to bring in a jailhouse snitch - who
admitted from the stand that he was looking for parole (he
got it) - to nail Conway.
"The party was full of them," Coates said of the informants, undercover
cops and agents provocateurs - government operatives
who specialized in urging radicals to commit violent and illegal acts - in
the BPP. Ajide says FBI agents offered her a car and a
house to turn informant.
With each side in the Conway pardon controversy claiming the moral higher
ground, it will not likely die soon.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Apr 28 2001 - 22:09:59 EDT