Capital Mayor ‘Masterminded’ Gun-Charge Trial, Rowan Says

Times Staff Writer

Syndicated columnist Carl T. Rowan said Thursday that he was prosecuted for possessing an unregistered handgun because District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry Jr. was attempting to “extort . . . a commitment not to criticize corruption in the Barry administration.”

Rowan’s trial on the misdemeanor charge ended in a hung jury on Sept. 29 and the city dropped the charges Wednesday. The case attracted nationwide attention when the columnist, a gun-control advocate, wounded Benjamin N. Smith, 18, on June 14 after he discovered Smith and a friend in his back-yard swimming pool at 2 a.m. Rowan said that he shot the teen-ager in self-defense as Smith attempted to break into his house.

Gun Belonged to Son

Rowan was charged with unlawful possession of an unregistered gun and unregistered ammunition. The handgun belonged to his son, Carl Rowan Jr., who had been an FBI agent. Rowan, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, testified that his son had been told by police that law enforcement officials were exempt from gun registration laws.


In talking with reporters near his large pool, where the shooting occurred, Rowan accused Barry of “masterminding” his prosecution and released information that he said proved that “this was a malicious, political prosecution from day one.”

Barry refused to comment on the charges.

Data that Rowan obtained from the District of Columbia Police Department but was not allowed to present at his trial shows that 1,249 unregistered guns were confiscated by the police from January, 1988, to June, 1988, the columnist said. However, only 222 people were arrested and charged with illegal gun possession during that time. Another police document states that, during the last 5 1/2 years, 82% of the district’s cases involving illegal gun possession were not prosecuted, he said.

According to Rowan, Barry and his legal counsel, Herbert O. Reid, tried to set up a deal in which the mayor’s “public posture on the gun issue would improve” if Rowan would cease to write about corruption in Barry’s administration.


Rowan said that Barry called his son on June 28 to say that city Corporation Counsel Frederick D. Cooke could not “make any decision regarding prosecution without my input.”