Sgt. J.T. Griffith of the Prince George's County Sheriff's Department said he studied up for two days before he was interviewed by Harry Reasoner, who brought the CBS TV news show "60 Minutes" to the county seat in Upper Marlboro this week.
Griffith, sought by Reasoner as an active member of the Stephanie Roper Committee, feared the tough-guy questions that have made some "60 Minutes" interviewers famous, the kind that start out, "Isn't it true, sir . . . "
So, Griffith said, "I really did my homework," studied the legislation backed by the committee that was formed to seek tougher sentencing laws in Maryland, and reviewed the constitution and legal cases related to capital punishment.
When it was over, Griffith said, he was "pleasantly disappointed" because Harry Reasoner wasn't a tough guy at all. He was, Griffith said, "a very pleasant guy."
One thing that Griffith and others seemed to like best about Harry Reasoner was that he wasn't Mike Wallace.
Mike Wallace "usually goes for the jugular. Mr. Reasoner was much kinder," Griffith said.
E. Allen Shepherd, the defense lawyer for one of two men convicted of murdering Stephanie Roper, a 22-year-old college honor student who was abducted, raped, shot and set afire, waited two hours and 45 minutes for Reasoner to show up with his camera crew at Shepherd's tiny office on Main Street in Upper Marlboro.
Shepherd said he would never talk to Mike Wallace, another "60 Minutes" interviewer, whom he described as a "headhunter." His secretary wondered if Reasoner would "go right for the throat."
With Shepherd was another defense lawyer, Peter Collery, who said he was standing by as kind of a witness to the interview, in case trouble arises later about exactly what was said.
When Reasoner arrived on Main Street with a small entourage and a jumble of camera equipment, he looked rumpled and decidedly unthreatening. When told that his subjects were glad he wasn't Mike Wallace, Reasoner said, "I don't see any way I can comment on that that would make me look good."
Asked how he liked Upper Marlboro, a tiny town where life revolves around the county government and courthouse, Reasoner said, "Apparently the major industry is parking."
Questioned as to what his story was about, Reasoner demurred, but said that one could figure out, from the shooting schedule, that it had something to do with Stephanie Roper and the Roper Committee. The news segment will be broadcast sometime this fall.
Reasoner also interviewed State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr., who was unavailable yesterday to comment on his comments to "60 Minutes." Marshall's wife, Sally, said the prosecutor found Reasoner to be a "very nice, very unassuming person and likeable." As for "60 Minutes," Sally Marshall said, "I think it's kind of a hoked-up program."
After about an hour in Shepherd's office late yesterday, Reasoner's deep, resonant voice was heard down the hallway. "Room tone . . . End of room tone," he said.
Then Shepherd, Collery, Reasoner and his producer repaired to the Olde Towne Inn, a venerable courthouse hangout next door to Shepherd's office.
There, Shepherd and Collery, both still nervous, pronounced Reasoner "charming" and said the interview had gone "very well."
Reasoner, lighting up a Pall Mall, then did an imitation of Mike Wallace interviewing a Girl Scout cookie-selling champion. "Do you REALLY want us to believe those are Girl Scout cookies you're selling?" he asked.