A divided federal appeals court yesterday rejected a claim that a racially biased jury convicted a black man of killing a white Prince George's County police officer in 1978.

Two judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond affirmed a lower court finding that any error in the trial of Terrence G. Johnson was harmless and did not influence the jury's verdict. But Judge Francis D. Murnaghan Jr. disagreed, saying he knew as a lifelong resident of Maryland that race has permeated many trials there.

During Johnson's 1979 murder trial for killing two white police officers, a juror told Judge Jacob Levin that she thought the jury foreman was racially prejudiced because he had told her, "The blacks are sticking together."

The jury convicted Johnson of voluntary manslaughter and the use of a handgun in one officer's death and found him not guilty by reason of insanity in the other officer's death. Johnson was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The appeals court opinion written by Judge Sam J. Ervin III and joined by Judge J. Dickson Phillips Jr. said there was no evidence that the jury foreman was prejudiced.

"We are not at all sure what, if anything, the statement 'the blacks are sticking together' indicates about the jury foreperson's bias or impartiality. He could have been merely reporting an observable fact," the opinion said.

The ruling also noted that no other jurors complained of bias.