Conley had been convicted in June 1998 of lying to a grand jury about what he saw during the early morning hours of January 25, 1995 when a black police officer in plain clothes, Michael Cox, was brutally beaten by fellow officers who mistook him for a fleeing murder suspect.
During his trial, Conley claimed he had not seen Cox at the scene of the beating because he was focused on one of the fleeing murder suspects, whom he captured after a long foot chase. Dozens of officers had responded to the scene in pursuit of four men who had reportedly killed a man in Roxbury.
Jurors found Conley not guilty of having witnessed or participated in the beating, but they found he had lied when he told authorities he had not observed Cox at the scene moments before the attack.
He was sentenced to 34 months in federal prison in September 1998 on that one count of perjury and for obstruction of justice.
Conley’s legions of supporters have long held that the Irish-American cop from South Boston was squeezed and scapegoated by prosecutors who were fed up with the “blue wall of silence” that surrounded this high-profile case for several years. Other than Conley, no one has ever been criminally charged in the case.
At the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston in 1999, thousands of residents wore stickers demanding “Justice for Kenny Conley.” Subsequently, newspaper editorialists, police officers and politicians from near and far joined the swelling chorus of support for Conley, while calling his conviction a travesty of justice.
Adding fuel to the ire of those who believed in Conley’s innocence was the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2001 award to the chief prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Merritt, citing him for “superior performance” in his dogged prosecution of Conley, whose case had been appealed numerous times by both the defense and the prosecution.
The turning point in the case came in July of this year when a federal appeals court ruled that Conley had not received a fair trial in 1998 because prosecutors had withheld from the defense an FBI memorandum which cast doubt on the credibility of a key witness against Conley.
That witness, patrolman Richard Walker, had told authorities that hypnosis might help him to “truly recall” the events surrounding the beating.
At a press conference Thursday, Sullivan said that he was not convinced that Conley had committed a crime.
“I can’t stand here today and say I know with certainty that Mr. Conley was guilty of committing perjury and obstruction of justice,” he said.
“After 10 years and a number of appeals, the time has come for this matter to be closed.”
Now 36, Conley lives in the suburban town of Norwood with his wife, Jennifer, who married him six years ago when he was facing a long prison sentence. He works as a union carpenter and has not yet decided if he will seek to rejoin the police department.
Kathleen O’Toole, the former member of the Patten Commission on police reform in Northern Ireland and who became Boston’s first female police commissioner in 2002, said Friday that Conley would be welcomed back on the force.
“This decision puts to rest an unfortunate and tragic incident for all involved,” she said.
Conley told the Echo Sunday that he has been receiving calls of congratulations from all over and that he is greatly relieved.
“I was always cautiously optimistic but never fully confident that this day would come,” he said.
“It’s great that it’s finally over and I can get on with my life.”