Judge denies new trial for murderer convicted in 1977

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - A man convicted of murdering and kidnapping a teenage girl in 1977 will stay in jail despite his attempts to get a new trial, according to the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s office.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Paul A. Hackner declined a new trial for William Clyde Conley, who was found guilty of kidnapping two young women and murdering one of them nearly four decades ago. 

Prosecutors who fought to prevent Conley’s release say the decision is a victory.

On April 6, 1978, Conley was convicted by an Anne Arundel County jury for the March 30, 1977 kidnapping of two teenage girls. Dawn Burkman, 18, in an effort to avoid a sexual assault, jumped out of Conley's moving car, resulting in her death. Her 16-year-old friend, who stayed in the vehicle with Conley and his co-defendant, was sexually assaulted repeatedly before Conley threw her onto the street and fled. Conley is serving a life sentence for the crimes.

In January, Conley argued that his 1978 conviction should be set aside under the 2012 case of State of Maryland vs. Merle Unger, which held the "advisory only" jury instructions given from that time period were a violation of his due process rights and were therefore invalid.

According to the Unger ruling, the court found that juries were wrongly told they could interpret the law as they wished and were free to disregard the court's instructions. The ruling has led to inmates incarcerated before 1980 to argue their outcomes were unfair.

Prosecutors and Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Paul A. Hackner disagreed and after examining the instructions taken as a whole and reviewed in their entirety, Judge Hackner found the jury instructions "sufficiently protected the Petitioner's (Conley's) rights."

As a result, Conley will continue to serve the remaining portion of his life sentence.

"There are other jurisdictions within the state of Maryland that are making deals with these individuals - our policy is to fight them," Leitess said. "We are not going to negotiate with a predator like this. Our job is to keep him in prison for as long as possible."