Marshall “Eddie” Conway — a former member of the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party and a vocal advocate for prison reform — has died, according to a statement from The Real News Network, where Conway worked as an executive producer and host.
The 76-year-old died in Long Beach, California, on Feb. 13, according to a social media post from his wife, Dominque.
“It is hard to find the words necessary to convey my sense of loss, and the enormous loss the world has experienced with the death of my husband, Marshall ‘Eddie’ Conway,” she wrote.
He was hospitalized last year with an unspecified illness, according to an April 2022 statement from the The Real News Network.
After being convicted of murdering a police officer and spending four decades behind bars — during which he always maintained his innocence — Conway was freed after the constitutionality of his trial was brought into question.
Marc Steiner, a longtime friend, colleague at The Real News and public radio host of his own show, said he and Conway first met when they — and their respective movements — started the People’s Free Medical Clinic on Greenmount Avenue in 1970.
Even then, Conway was “outwardly calm, yet strong,” Steiner said. “He could kind of walk into a situation and kind of really be a peacemaker. ... He was very strong in terms of spiritual fortitude in some ways, but physically as well.”
A year later, Conway was convicted of killing Baltimore police officer Donald Sager and injuring another officer. He had always maintained his innocence and said his prosecution was politically motivated.
Conway continued his activism while incarcerated, The Real News Network said. He founded a chapter of the Black Panther Party for inmates and went on to organize the United Prisoners Labor Union and the Maryland Penitentiary Intercommunal Survival Collective.
“He couldn’t be deterred,” Steiner said.
Steiner, who started his radio show on WJHU — now WYPR — in 1993, developed a closeness with Conway after interviewing him about his work with the Black Panthers and his case — first through prison phones, and eventually in person at the facility.
“But inside the prison, he helped transform, as he did hundreds of guys, to transform their anger into heightened consciousness about what it meant to be Black in America,” Steiner said. “Eddie could walk through things, where there were tensions and actually bring people together and stop the violence inside [the prison] as a peacemaker.”
In 2011, he published a memoir on his experience called “Marshall Law: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther.”
Two years after the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s jury instructions prior to 1980 were unconstitutional, Conway was released on time served in March 2014.
Police union officials and Sager’s family still believed Conway was guilty, according to a Baltimore Sun article, but prosecutors said they no longer had enough evidence to retry the case.
Conway joined The Real News Network as a producer that November, where he hosted the weekly show “Rattling the Bars,” which put “the voices of the people most harmed by our system of mass incarceration at the center of our reporting on the fight to end it,” according to its website.
Steiner said The Real News Network is feeling the loss of their colleague.
“The years he spent inside molded this unique character. ... It’s a horrible loss because he was an example to everybody he came in contact with from his kids to his producer, Cam[eron Grandino], on the show,” he said.
This story has been updated to correct Marshall "Eddie" Conway's age at the time of his death and to clarify the circumstances surrounding his release.