Thomas Butler, who with his brother James was charged in the highly publicized 1974 quadruple slayings at a Landover liquor store, claims Prince George's County police held him a room for 18 hours, refused to let him sleep and hit him in the groin before he finally confessed to that crime.
The confession was later thrown out by Prince George's County District Court Judge James Magruder Rea during a preliminary hearing Jan. 26 because police admitted holding Butler for 18 hours without formally charging him. Butler alleged that during that period he was not permitted to call his lawyer until after his confession.
The prosecution dropped the charges against the Bulters in March after two key witnesses testified at the January preliminary hearing that police held and questioned them for several days without warrants in an effort to obtain information that later led to the arrest of Thomas Butler and his brother. One witness testified that police "slapped me around" before questioning him.
"You knew you couldn't fight back," Thomas Butler said in recalling the 18-hour interrogation. "Everybody in there (the police headquarters) and guns."
Butler said that everytime he was about to fall asleep, policemen would come into the room and order him to "quit sleeping."
Maj. Larry Shanks, the officer in charge of the county's Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Forestville, denied that his officers had employed brutality during Butler's questioning. "In cases of this magnitude we wouldn't resort to anything that might lose (the case)," he said.
"People are able to say anything they want," Shanks said in disputing the brutality claims. He noted that one of those who allege police brutality have filed suits against the county police department making similar allegations.
Butler made the charge of brutality in an interview following his release this week from the D.C. jail. He had been held in Washington on an unrelated army robbery charge that was dismissed after the Prince George's County murder charges were dropped last month. James Butler, who was held in Prince George's County, was released in March when the murder charges were dropped.
The Butlers, along with an unnamed, third suspect who is still being sought, were accused to killing R. Earle Sheriff Sr., the 82-year-old owner of the Kent Village Liquors, his 75-year-old wife Clara, and two delivery men for a wholesale liquor distributing company - William E. Deetz, 20, and Melvin F. Montgomery, 22.
Police said the incident occurred shortly before 8 a.m. Oct. 24, 1974, when holdup men forced Sheriff and his wife into a walk-in cooler and took the delivery men to a back room. Deetz was handcuffed to a pipe on an ice machine.
Police said the armed men then ransacked the store, probably in search of money Sheriff used to cash checks and make small loans.
The Sheriffs were then taken to the back room where all four victims were doused with gasoline an set ablaze. Montgomery, who apparently tried to flee, was found shot in the back.
The Butler were arrested in connection with the murders after the two witnesses provided information linking the brothers to the murders. One witness told police he had obtained a gun used in the murders from Thomas Butler, while the other claimed to have overheard Thomas Butler discussing the murder-robbery.
The courts are not unfamiliar to Thomas Butler, who is now on parole after serving the minimum time of a 6-to-24 year sentence for the second degree murder of D.C. policeman Eugene I. Williams in February, 1968.
According to witnesses in that case, a car driven by Butler backed up in the 700 block of 12th Street SE, and hit a parked car. Officer Williams investigated the incident and was shot after a few minutes' conversation with Butler, witnesses said.
Defense witnesses during the trial, and recently Butler himself, said Butler had been drinking heavily at a party that night and was "high" on marijuana.
Butler says he has been persecuted by police ever since his parole in 1974 - two months before the quadruple slaying occurred in Prince George's County.
"I had come home from work early to take the kids to the credit union so that I could get some money to buy a gift," Butler recalled in discussing his arrest on Dec. 16, 1976, in connection with the Landover murders. "When I got home I was stopped by District police who pulled guns and told me I was under arrest."
Butler said he was turned over to Prince George's County police and driven to the Forestville headwuarters of the criminal investigations bureau.
"I came in at about 4:30 and sometime late that night or early the next morning - I can't remember - a policeman came in and sat down in front of me. I kept looking away and he kept telling me to look at him . . . He hit me in the groin and told me he was going to do it again unless I told him the truth," he said.
He was not permitted to sleep, he said. Finally, he said, "I went on and confessed to it to keep from getting hit." He said he believed he could later "straighten up" the confession in court.
Butler's attorney Donald Daneman said he believes that Thomas Butler was beaten by Prince George's County police. He notes that a state's witness, during the preliminary hearing said he saw Thomas "crying" after he made the confession.
Butler, who is now home with his family in Northeast Washington, says he is afraid the "harassment" will continue by police.
Prince George's County State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. said the "Sheriff case is still open."