By Jim Smith
BOSTON — The federal investigation into the brutal beating of Boston police officer Michael Cox came to an end last week when the five-year federal statute of limitations on the crime expired. As a result, no police officers will be prosecuted for the Jan. 25, 1995 beating of the black plainclothes Boston police officer who was mistaken for a suspect and allegedly severely beaten by a group of officers during a wild pursuit of four murder suspects in a dimly lit cul-de-sac in Mattapan.
U.S. Attorney Donald Stern told reporters Thursday that a sustained code of silence prevented his office from obtaining any criminal indictments for the actual beating. "We have hit a blue wall," he said.
The only officer criminally charged in the entire Cox affair was Ken Conley of South Boston. Many of his supporters claim that he was scapegoated by federal authorities who were frustrated by the blue wall of silence.
Conley pursued and arrested one of the fleeing murder suspects, Robert Brown, that night. Prosecutors, however, were convinced that Conley knew more than he was telling them. They were able in 1998 to convince a federal jury that Conley must have seen Cox running up to a fence just before the beating. That same jury, however, concluded that he neither participated in nor witnessed the beating.
For that one count of perjury and a related obstruction of justice charge, Conley now faces 34 months in federal prison. The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether or not to hear the case.
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One of the key witnesses against Conley at the perjury trial was Robert Brown, the fleeing suspect whom Conley had apprehended. Brown testified that, after leaping a fence, he looked back and saw Conley at the scene of the beating.
Last week, the Boston Globe reported that Brown had been under surveillance by federal authorities for two years before the beating and had sold crack cocaine to undercover agents just three months before being arrested by Conley. Brown was recently indicted on federal drug charges.
Stern denied that Brown received any inducements or rewards for testifying against Conley, but Conley’s lawyer, Willie Davis, was never told about the drug sales during the 1998 trial. Davis, who might have used that information to discredit Brown as a witness, told the Echo Monday that he is looking into the possibility of seeking a new trial for Conley.
"Right now we’re focusing on the Supreme Court to see if they are going to review our case," Davis said.
The Cox case was the subject of an NBC "Dateline" program last November. Conley supporters, while sympathetic to the injured Cox, were furious that the show portrayed Conley not as a victim of injustice but as a likely participant in the mass coverup.
Conley continues to receive tremendous support from within the South Boston community and beyond. U.S. Rep. Joseph Moakley of South Boston has taken an active interest in the case, along with Reps. Richard Neal of Massachusetts and Peter King of New York.