Former Black Panther leader Marshall “Eddie” Conway walked free Tuesday after spending four decades behind bars for killing a Baltimore police officer — making his one of the highest-profile cases affected by a high court decision that has cut short prison sentences for dozens of felons in recent years.
Conway, now 67, always said that he was innocent, alleging political motives in the prosecution of a 1970 shooting that killed Officer Donald Sager, 35, and injured another officer. Over the years many supporters, including prominent Baltimore politicians, have joined his cause.
Police union officials and Sager’s family said they still believe Conway was guilty. But prosecutors — faced with the prospect of retrying a more than 40-year-old case built on the testimony of a fellow police officer and a jailhouse interview — said they could not have convicted him again.
Conway sought a new trial under a 2012 decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which said verdicts before 1980 were invalid because of faulty jury instructions. Under a deal with prosecutors, Conway agreed to abandon his court fight in exchange for his release on time served.
Conway walked out of the courthouse about 3 p.m. and then went to a friend’s house to eat a plate of vegetable lasagna with his two sons and other supporters, according to Dominique Stevenson, a longtime advocate who co-wrote a book with him. Conway declined to be interviewed.
“He’s just taking it all in,” Stevenson said.
Supporters have long believed that Conway was set up because of his role with the Black Panthers, and on Tuesday the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others hailed his release, calling it a “monumental day” and “an important page turner in this tragic story.”
But Sager’s son, who was 7 at the time of his father’s death, said he was devastated. David Sager said he was warned of the outcome more than a month ago in a meeting with Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein.
Read the full story at baltimoresun.com