The chief law enforcement officer of Carroll County asserted in a speech to a local civic group this week that he had once made up his mind to "kill a reporter" over some news articles and, indeed, still has the pistol he intended to use.
"I was so hurt, so unfarily, by those ridiculous accusations [in local 1974 news articles]," county prosecutor Thomas Hickman told more than 50 local businessmen, "that I made up my mind if I lost the election I would come here . . . and kill the reporter primarily responsible for those wonderful articles."
The lengthy speech lambasting the news media won Hickman a standing ovation, according to several who attended the Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday in Westminister, Md., the county seat of this rural area 75 miles north of Washington.
Yesterday, one day after the speech, Hickman was surprised and subdued by an editorial dubbing him the "pistol-packing prosecutor," but he still asserted that he made the starting admission "to show members of the public how frustrating it is to be the subject of unfair news articles."
He said that when he was first running for office in 1974 he had been angered by news articles in a local newspaper -- now the Carroll County Evening Sun -- that accused him of taking a bribe and violating residency requirements in seeking the post of county prosecutor.
Hickman, who has since been reelected to a second term, said the articles were inaccurate, but that he never really intended to carry through with a shooting. Hickman said that on election night, instead of going to the restaurant where the reporter was attending a party, he stayed at a party at his own home. After learning he had won, he went to the restaurant, "shook hands with the reporter and tried to put it all behind me."
Yesterday, a somewhat contrite Hickman insisted, "What I should have said at the outset in the speech [was] I really wanted to slug the guy, wanted to wring the guy's neck. I didn't mean to start all this controversy by stating I wanted to kill somebody."
Hickman's speech on the media drew an editorial attack yesterday from a second local newspaper, the Carroll County Times, which said his comments "should offend any decent, law-abiding citizen in this county. A public official, especially one entrusted with the public safety, who actually considered shooting a journalist if he lost an election should be closely scrutinized."
The general manager of the Sun which printed the 1974 articles, seemed unperturbed by Hickman's comments. "We're not alarmed . . . it doesn't upset us, and we're not worried we have to have armed guards at the door or anything," said general manager Al Sterner. Sterner said he "couldn't answer whether the  articles are accurate," and said the reporter involved was "no longer in the newspaper business."
Hickman said he made the speech because he is "just really fed up over some articles over the last six years." Currently, Hickman is involved in a battle with the local Times over an autopsy report he has refused to release on a 1979 murder case. The newspaper has sued him in an attempt to get the report, while Hickman has maintained that release would impair the investigation.
In his speech Wednesday, Hickman asserted that he "loves newspapers," having been an avid reader since his childhood.
Of the 1974 incident, however, Hickman said, "It is hard to imagine that a then- 27-year-old man, who came from a family that went to church every Sunday, completed the most rigorous college training in the nation . . . and did all so many things that are supposed to line the road to the American dream, it is hard to imagine that such a person was led to consider such a desperate, foolish, destructive act, but I tell you now, without shame, yet with regret, that I did."