(AP) A jury convicted Ronald Reed on Wednesday in the shooting death of St. Paul police officer James Sackett nearly 36 years ago, and the judge sentenced him to life in prison.
The jury found Reed, 55, of Chicago, guilty on both counts - first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Ramsey County prosecutor Susan Hudson told jurors during her closing argument Tuesday that Reed set up the "cold-blooded assassination" of Sackett, who was shot while answering a fake call about a pregnant woman in labor May 22, 1970.
Prosecutors alleged that Reed and co-defendant Larry Clark, who are black, wanted to impress the national leadership of the Black Panthers by killing a white police officer. At the time, they were involved in a local group of young militants and wanted to establish a chapter of the Black Panthers here, prosecutors said.
Ramsey County Chief District Judge Gregg Johnson sentenced Reed to life in prison. Because the sentencing laws that were in place in 1970 apply, Reed could be eligible for parole in about 18 years.
Clark, 54, is scheduled to face trial on the same charges in April.
The Ramsey County jury deliberated for about 10 hours Tuesday and Wednesday before returning its verdict.
Sackett was a 27-year-old married father of four who had been on the force just 18 months.
Police Chief John Harrington sat near Sackett's family as the verdict was announced. City Council member Dan Bostrom, a former police officer who as working the night Sackett was killed, broke down in tears, and Mayor Chris Coleman put his arm around him.
"We're happy this chapter is closed," Coleman said.
Reed's family members said they had no comment and left the courtroom.
Prosecutors called around 20 witnesses during the weeklong trial, including Reed's ex-girlfriend, Connie Trimble-Smith, who testified that Reed persuaded her to make the phone call that lured Sackett into the ambush, and that Reed was with her when she made it from a phone booth only a block from the shooting scene. But she also said she didn't believe Reed was involved in killing, and that they had been tricked into placing the call.
But other witnesses testified that Reed spoke about wanting to shoot a police officer, and that years later he admitted his involvement in the Sackett shooting.
The defense called no witnesses, but attorney John Pecchia argued that the prosecution witnesses lacked credibility. He also noted in his closing arguments that prosecutors had failed to produce either the murder weapon, an eyewitness to the shooting, or any physical evidence tying Reed to it.
Reed reluctantly opted not to testify after the judge said that doing so, or if the defense called character witnesses, he'd probably let the prosecution tell the jury about Reed's conviction for robbing a bank in Omaha, Neb., five months after Sackett was killed. Reed's conviction sent him to prison for a decade.
When Reed was arrested in 2005, he was living in Chicago, where he owned a house and worked as a pipe fitter, neighbors said. He was a member of the block club and religion had helped him turn his life around, they said. Clark had been homeless and living in a shelter in St. Paul.