His once-lanky frame has thickened with age, and the hair that fell to his shoulders is now thin and receding. But Malcolm Emory still bears scars—and wounds of memory—from the night of Jan. 29, 1970. Then a 19-year-old student at Boston’s Northeastern University, Emory was heading home from the library when he came across a crowd of 1,500 students protesting the Vietnam War. He had never seen a demonstration before and decided to stay and see what was happening. Suddenly, a group of students turned violent, and baton-wielding police moved in. Within moments, Emory was knocked to the ground, his head bleeding; by the evening’s end, the quiet, bookish sophomore was arrested for assault.
Emory was later convicted of attacking police officer Vincent Logan. Though he was not imprisoned. Emory—who steadfastly maintained he had been holding an armful of textbooks when Logan clubbed him—soon saw his life begin to unravel. He lost his university scholarship and the job that went with it. Forced to abandon his dream of becoming a physicist, he dropped out of school and began drifting across the country, working menial jobs. Disillusioned and demoralized, he all but gave up hope that he would ever be vindicated. Then, nearly 20 years after leaving school, he found a piece of critical evidence: a photograph taken that January night, showing Emory being dragged off by police—and clutching a stack of books under his arm.
Malcolm Emory is sitting on the bed in his studio apartment in Beverly, Mass., reminiscing about the past. One of six children born to a submarine inspector and a secretary, Emory grew up in the tranquil town of Ledyard, Conn. I was really kind of nerdy back then.” he says of high school days. “I was interested in physics and that was it.” He was such a gifted student that at age 18 he landed a research job requiring security clearance at the Navy’s underwater sound laboratory in New London, Conn., as part of a full-tuition government scholarship to Northeastern. Basically apolitical, Emory ignored most of the social upheavals of the Vietnam War era, but when he happened upon the rally after leaving Northeastern’s Dodge Library, his curiosity got the better of him. “I felt it was something I should learn about,” he says. “This was a new experience for me. “Then, when protesters began hurling bricks and chunks of cement at police. Emory stood helpless as a sea of blue uniforms surged into the crowd. “Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a little flash of blue,” he recalls. “Next thing I knew, a guy hit me on the side of the head with his nightstick.” Officers then dragged him to a room and shoved him into a glass door. Emory claims, before he was beaten so severely that he required numerous stitches on his head, chin and elbow. “Then they put me in a jail cell.” he says. “I was in a state of shock, thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t believe this is happening.’ ”
During his two-day trial the following May, Emory had only his word against that of Logan, 39, a four-year police veteran who was the key witness against him. Logan testified that Emory had either a brick or chunk of cement in his hands and that he had clubbed Emory simply to disarm him. Emory’s other injuries, Logan claimed, occurred when Emory fell and hit his head on a bench. After a jury found him guilty, Emory was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and put on three years’ probation.
More significantly, the conviction cost him his scholarship and his government security clearance; then the Navy asked him to resign from his job. Emory’s parents, who were struggling to make ends meet, could not afford to offer him financial assistance. Loans that he had taken out to supplement his scholarship came due, and by the end of 1970 he was forced to sell all his possessions and give up his apartment. “I figured I would have a career as a physicist, a family and a nice life. But that isn’t the way it turned out,” he says. “This was not logical. It didn’t make sense.”
After working at a factory in Massachusetts and picking apples in West Virginia, Emory took up welding in 1974 and traveled the country from one job to the next. He grew apart from family and friends and became estranged from his father, who at times doubted his innocence. “[Malcolm] just went whichever way the wind blew, trying to find direction. He was very lost,” says sister Cherie Wilson, who believes that Emory’s obsession with his conviction is the reason he never married. “A man’s occupation is central to his self-esteem, and early on his was destroyed. But he couldn’t forget about it, because he knew it was wrong.”
For years Emory hoped that officer Logan would have a crisis of conscience and recant his testimony; then, in 1985, he decided to take matters into his own hands. While visiting a friend in Boston, he went to the public library to sort through microfilm newspaper articles about the demonstration 15 years earlier. Surprisingly, he found his face in one of the photographs. But when he contacted the Boston Globe to search for more pictures, Emory was stymied by a legal catch-22. In an effort to protect antiwar protesters from prosecution, the Globe had instituted a policy requiring a subpoena for unpublished photographs. But a subpoena could not be issued unless Emory was granted a new trial; and his case couldn’t be reopened without new evidence. In 1987, after four other lawyers had failed, John Legasey, an attorney in Danvers, Mass., took up Emory’s cause; he and his assistant persisted for two years until the Globe finally gave in. In January 1989, as Emory anxiously leafed through some two dozen photos, he found what he was looking for: a grainy, black-and-white print of Logan, another policeman and Emory himself, books in hand. “Seeing that picture,” he says, “I just lit up.”
Emory was granted a new trial last April. A month later, the Suffolk County district attorney’s office dropped the assault charge against him, convinced that the photograph proved his innocence. At long last, he is beginning to rebuild his life. He is attending Northeastern again with the help of a $10,000-a-year scholarship—granted by university officials after they learned of his vindication—and has been working nights as a jet-engine parts inspector in Peabody, Mass. He has also reconciled with his father. Though Emory has recently filed a civil suit against the city of Boston and the retired Logan (who would not speak with PEOPLE), he is eager to let go of the past and shows surprisingly little bitterness toward the man who nearly destroyed him. “Because Logan was powerful enough, he was able to get me convicted,” says Emory. “But,” he adds, “he didn’t have the truth behind him.”
—Andrew Abrahams, Stephen Sawicki in Boston