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Convicted cop killer denied new trial

July 07, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

HAGERSTOWN -- The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Monday overturned a local judge's decision to grant a new trial for a man convicted of killing a Hagerstown police officer more than 30 years ago, according to court records.

Washington County Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley ordered a new trial for Merle W. Unger Jr. in March. The new trial was based on how the judge in Unger's trial handled jury instructions, according to Monday's decision.

Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph S. Michael said previously that his office and the Maryland Attorney General's Office would appeal Beachley's ruling.

Unger, 57, is serving a sentence of life plus 40 years. He was convicted of murdering Officer Donald Kline during a gunbattle on Dec. 13, 1975. The trial was held in Talbot County, Md.

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Kline was off duty and tried to arrest Unger after he robbed a Hagerstown business.

Two or three Hagerstown police officers who served with Kline remain on duty today, officials said.

Michael said previously that the ruling of a higher court in a case similar to Unger's prompted Beachley to order a new trial.

Unger has escaped from custody at least eight times, Michael has said.

Had the case been tried again, authorities would have taken special precautions to ensure he wouldn't escape again, Michael said.

If there had been another trial, Michael said Unger's confession to Kline's murder probably would be reintroduced.

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