The jury in the case of Terrence G. Johnson heard two dramatic but markedly different accounts yesterday of the events of June 26, 1978 -- first the story of the arrogant teen-ager who murdered two policemen, ben the story of a youngster frightened out of his mind acting in self-defense.
The stories were told during opening statements by State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. and defense attorney R. Kenneth Mundy as the trial of Johnson, the 16-year-old Bladensburg black youth accused of killing two white Prince George's County police officers, began after two days of jury selection.
Before the opening statements, however, Judge Jacob S. Levin ruled that the defense will not be allowed to make any reference during the trial to the personnel records of the slain officers, Albert M. Claggett IV and James Brian Swart.
Levin also rules that the defense could not introduce a survey it commissioned on the attitude in the community toward the county police department.
Levin's rulings, especially on the officers' prior records, were a setback for Johnson's defense. Defense attorney Mundy contended in his opening statement yesterday that Johnson was being beaten by Claggett when the youth grabbed the officer's gun and shot him.
State's Attorney Marshall, trying his first case in three years, spoke emotionally and forcefully, often raising his voice as he asked the jury "to come back to the morning of June 26, 1978."
With the packed courtroom hushed, Marshall then described how Terrence and his older brother, Melvin Johnson, were stopped by police as they drove down Landover Road at 1:42 a.m.
"When this car is stopped, you will meet the defendant and his brother for the first time," Marshall said. "You may ask how this defendant could take the lives of two police officers. Listen to the demeanor of the defendant as he is placed into Swart's cruiser.
"Listen to the people who observed him in the processing room at the police station. You will see an arrogant explosive defendant, a person unlike the defendant sitting in this room," said Marshall, whirling and pointing at Johnson who set wearing a white sweater with his hands folded on the defense table.
Marshall then described Johnson's argument with Swart noting that at one point, "the defendant threatened Swart with words like 'I'd like to see you outside.'"
Moments later, Marshall said, Johnson was taken into the fingerprinting room by Claggett. "Only two people were in there," said Marshall, "and only one is around to testify. But we will show that Claggett did not beat the defendant, that at no time were voices heard emanating from the room.
"Then we will show that the defendant ripped free... the gun from the holster and that when he shot officer Claggett he had both hands on the gun. And, at the moment officer Claggett was shot [Claggett's] left hand was on the gun, not Terrence Johnson's body.
"When the defendant squeezed that trigger, he wanted to kill Claggett."
Marshall noted -- and Mundy later agreed -- that Johnson and Claggett were alone for only 30 to 35 seconds. "When he [Johnson] opened that door, who did he see 18 feet away but the person he had threatened," said Marshall, "officer Swart."
He then described how Johnson fired five more shots, one striking Swart in the stomach, another in the back of his belt, the other three lodging in the walls.
Defense attorney Mundy, in his turn, described the same series of events but gave different reasons for their occurrence.
"We have a long and emotional trial ahead of us," Mundy said. "This is a disturbing case. It has virtually torn apart an entire county."
He then gave the defense version of what happened between 1:30 and 3:00 a.m. on June 26. Terrence had been persuaded by Melvin to go with him to a late drive-in movie. They stopped at a 7-Eleven to pick up a paper and moments later were stopped by Claggett and another officer.
They were arrested because their registration tags were invalid. Two other officers arriving at the scene had wanted to sent Terrence, a juvenile, back home, Mundy said. But Swart insisted on arresting the youth, saying, "He's mine."
At the station Johnson was handcuffed to a chair, even though three write teen-agers in the station for breaking into a swimming pool were not, Mundy said.
"All this time Terry was aware of what had happened to young blacks in the past in dealing with the Prince George's County police," said Mundy, The defense attorney did not elaborate, since Judge Levin had ordered him not be mention two earlier incidents when county police shot and killed unarmed black suspects.
"As he sat in that chair, Terry was kicked not once, not twice but three times by officer Swart," Mundy continued.
"When he stood up and tried to fight back, officer Claggett and another officer took him in the corner and began beating him. Melvin, sitting in a holding cell saw this and yelled for them to stop.
"Then Claggett took Terry [no longer handcuffed] into the finger-printing and breathalzing room. Police officers will testify that the door is almost NEVER closed. Yet he closed the door. And in the 30 to 35 seconds they were in there you will hear... that there was a struggle.
"It was a fight, as far as Terry was concerned, for his life. With superhuman strength, born out of fear, he ripped the gun from Claggett's holster. ... As Terry backed away, Claggett kept coming. There was nothing Terry could do but fire.
"These events," Mundy continued his voice rising, "set fire to reason. As he ran from the room he shot five times, three of the shots almost hitting his own brother.
"He was shooting wildly, running down the hall screaming and crying completely out of his mind, dry firing as he went. He was no longer Terry Johnson at this point. He was hell bent for leather, completely scared to death."
As he finished his statement Mundy said quietly, "now you know there are two sides to this story."
After the fire and brimstone opening statements, the testimony of the first two witnesses, officers Richard W. Poma and James H. Shaffer was anticlimactic. The two were on the scene when the Johnson car was stopped. Poma described the defendant as "arrogant," in his brief encounter while Shaffer found him, "polite."
The state will continue its case this morning.