I felt fear, hate, disgust, anxiety . . . . They totally degrade you . . . . It was hell."
The man speaking was David Earl Wedler, 34, telling a federal court jury today about 28 months he spent in the Maryland prison system in 1968-70 for his part in an armed robbery of a Chillum 7-Eleven convenience store that he claims Prince George's County police set up to entrap him and fellow suspect William C. Harris.
Wedler, who is white, said he underwent repeated threats by hostile blacks in the heavily black prison population and was subjected to advances by homosexuals.
"There were rats and mice all over the place," he testified. "You'd find rats in your bed and hit 'em with a shoe or something."
If the police setup at the 7-Eleven had never occurred, Wedler contends, he would not have had to endure those years behind bars, and Harris, who was shot and killed by waiting police at the 7-Eleven, would still be alive.
Wedler, Harris' family and other plaintiffs have sued police for $9 million, contending in the current trial that police killed two suspects, wounded a third and arrested still others in a series of five phony robberies and burglaries set up in 1967 by police informants at the direction of a so-called police "death squad" in violation of 14th Amendment rights of due process.
In his testimony today, Wedler, a tall, gangling man who is enrolled in a paralegal program at the University of Maryland, said he pleaded guilty to assault in the 7-Eleven incident and served 28 months at various prison facilities in Maryland.
The first eight or nine months were the worst, he said, when he was incarcerated in early 1968 at the main penitentiary in Baltimore and another facility in Hagerstown.
When black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, Wedler testified, black inmates became "very hostile . . . . All you could hear all night long was 'kill whitey, kill whitey.' "
The cellblock runners bringing food to inmates "spat on your sandwich . . . . You didn't know if you were going to live," he said.
At another point, he said, when he was watching a televised boxing match with fellow prisoners in a recreation room, a black inmate snapped at him, "Whitey sits in the back. Whitey doesn't sit in the front."
Wedler said he suddenly asserted himself, grabbed the inmate's head and bit him on the nose.
Thereafter, Wedler said, he was able to "survive . . . in that hell hole." He had become "jail-wise," he said.
Later, he said, conditions improved. He was transferred to a more open facility in Hagerstown where he completed high school, enrolled in a barber course and helped start a Jaycee chapter in the prison. He was paroled in July 1970.
Police have denied they instructed informants to lure participants such as Wedler and others into robberies and burglaries.
They contend the informants came to them with information about planned holdups and burglaries, and detectives, as a matter of routine procedure, staked out the targeted stores.
They also claim that police fired on the suspects only after the suspects ignored orders to halt and fired at police.
Cross-examination of Wedler by police lawyers, which began today, is expected to continue this week.