Two decades ago, Gregory A. Hall was a 21-year-old crack dealer who took part in a gun battle that killed a seventh-grade honors student as he and his family left a church service in Capitol Heights.
Hall, now a businessman and former Prince George’s County Council aide, is the nominee to replace suspended Prince George’s County lawmaker Tiffany Alston in Maryland’s House of Delegates. County Democrats named him to finish Alston’s term, which ends in January 2015.
But Hall’s troubled past has resurfaced as Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) considers the appointment. Some local Democratic activists have said privately that Democratic Central Committee members are having second thoughts after choosing the 42-year-old in a 12-10 vote. But Terry Speigner, chairman of the committee, said members decided Thursday night not to reconsider the nomination after failing to reach a consensus.
Hall says he has never hidden from his history, and he insists that it would be an asset in Annapolis.
“It’s never been a secret. He talks about it,” said Hall’s former boss, Prince George’s County Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville). “He’s used his past to try to tell people to take the right path.”
Alston, a first-term legislator, was removed from office in October after she was sentenced on a misconduct charge for stealing $800 from the General Assembly to pay an employee of her law firm.
An Anne Arundel County judge on Tuesday struck Alston’s conviction, and Alston and her attorneys say they are preparing a lawsuit to try to get her job back.
O’Malley has until Thanksgiving to approve Hall’s nomination, and the governor’s spokeswoman has said the administration is aware of Hall’s criminal record and that “everything is being taken into consideration.”
Hall was initially charged with murder in the 1992 shootout that killed a 13-year-old boy in the crossfire.
He spent 40 days in jail. But the charge was withdrawn after tests showed the fatal bullet had come from the gun of another man with whom Hall was feuding.
A jury also determined that Hall did not fire the first shot, and Hall was convicted separately on a misdemeanor gun charge.
At the time, Hall was facing another charge of cocaine possession after police found drug residue in plastic bags that Hall says belonged to a cousin. The charges were dropped, according to court records.
Doing drugs was “never my thing,” Hall said. “I don’t even drink.”
And after the boy was killed on the Capitol Heights street where Hall still lives, he said in an interview at his home Thursday, “that was the end of my reign as a drug dealer.”
Hall continued to attract trouble.
Police discovered a gun hidden in the front seat of a car Hall said he was driving for a friend in 1994.
He says he unknowingly bought two cars at auction with invalid temporary tags, most recently in 2004. Both cases were also dropped, according to court records.
Hall has also had financial problems and is working to pay off at least $9,000 in back taxes, he said.
After working as a County Council aide for Campos for four years, Hall did a stint with the county’s Public Works and Transportation Department before trying his hand in the cellphone retail business — and in politics. He fell 310 votes short of defeating Alston for the House seat in 2010.
Hall and his wife, an elementary school principal and professor, live with her two children. He has two children of his own.
Hall said Thursday that he has tried to use his experience to encourage young people to make better choices than he did and to tell others that they can overcome their mistakes.
“You deal with it every day,” he said. “It haunts you.”
In Annapolis, Campos said, Hall would be the opposite of a polished, long-winded politician.
“Greg is a little rough around the edges, but he’s got a great heart and he wants to represent the community,” he said.
That community connection is what Hall considers his strength.
“These politicians want to legislate from their desks,” he said. “Nobody wants to go to the neighborhood to look at what needs to be changed.”
Maryland’s constitution does not appear to give the governor discretion on Hall’s nomination, saying he “shall appoint” the central committee’s choice.
Miranda S. Spivack and John Wagner contributed to this report.