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Feds again seeking to deny Hub cop new trial

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jim Smith

BOSTON — Claiming that federal prosecutors are motivated by politics rather than the pursuit of justice, supporters of former Boston police officer Ken Conley are expressing anger that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston has for the second time appealed a federal judge’s order granting the Irish American a new trial.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls saying that it’s obvious that politics is playing a big part in all of this,” John Steiner said Monday about the 53-page appeal filed last Wednesday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Merritt. “People are finding it hard to believe that they want to keep dragging this case on forever.”

Steiner is the brother-in-law of Conley, the South Boston resident who was convicted in June 1998 of lying to a grand jury about what he saw when a black police officer, Michael Cox, was beaten by fellow officers on Jan. 25, 1995 after they mistook him for a fleeing murder suspect.

No one has ever alleged that Conley participated in the beating, but jurors concluded that he must have seen Cox at the scene just prior to the attack. As a result, they convicted him of one count of perjury and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to 34 months in federal prison.

Three officers, two black and one white, were eventually found liable by a federal civil jury for the beating of Cox and related offenses. Conley was found not liable for any offense related to the beating, and yet he remains the only officer ever criminally charged in the case.

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Judge Robert Keeton, who had presided over Conley’s perjury trial, ordered a new trial for Conley in June 2000, citing “newly discovered evidence” and “conflicts and contradictions in the record as a whole,” but the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in May of last year that Keeton had erred and applied an incorrect legal standard when he ordered the new trial. It then ordered Conley to begin serving his prison sentence.

Judge Keeton, after seeking clarification from the Appeals Court, then issued another order for a new trial in September of last year. In that ruling, Keeton wrote: “Indeed, the strength of this [new] evidence leads me to find that the defendant has met his burden of showing a probable result of acquittal in a new trial.”

Conley supporters had hoped that federal prosecutors would either drop the case at that point or proceed with a new trial. Instead, in its appeal filed last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office claims that Keeton has again erred and that his order for a new trial should be reversed: “In sum, the district court’s order granting Conley’s motion is both procedurally barred and substantively in error. The government respectfully requests that the Court reverse that order, and direct that Conley begin service of his sentence.”

Steiner and hordes of Conley supporters in and around Boston believe that Conley, who is now 32, was singled out for prosecution by federal authorities who were frustrated with the blue wall of silence that surrounded this case for years.

Former state Sen. Stephen Lynch of South Boston, who is now a U.S. congressman, said in 1999 that the zealous prosecution of Conley stemmed in part from a lingering reservoir of ill-will by elitists and others in power toward the predominantly Irish-American community. “I believe he’s a scapegoat who was targeted and convicted because he’s from South Boston,” Lynch said.

Steiner said that many residents of South Boston are incensed that Merritt was the recipient of an award last year from the U.S. Department of Justice, honoring him for his ongoing prosecution of Conley in what has become a high-profile case. “Judge Keeton said that justice would be served if Ken had a new trial, but it’s obvious that there are other factors at work here,” he said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals is expected to issue its ruling by the summer.

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