When Terrence Johnson was released from prison 16 years after killing two white police officers, it looked like a happy ending to one of America's most racially charged murder cases. Johnson, a black man who was only 15 when he snatched an officer's gun and fired the fatal shots in a suburban Washington police station, won his release in 1995 after a national campaign by supporters who claimed he deserved a new life. Johnson, freed at 32, had studied for a degree in jail, and on his release obtained full-time work, entered law school, was writing a book about his life, and said he was ready to repay the faith placed in him by his army of supporters. 'From this day forward, my actions will speak of my remorse and my worthiness,' he told a media throng on leaving jail. Those words turned sour last week when police, called to a bank robbery in a small Maryland town, cornered the hooded suspects as they escaped on foot, and looked on helplessly as one of the men turned his gun on himself and shot. Peeling back his mask, the officers immediately recognised the suicide victim as Terrence Johnson. Johnson's death, after he apparently fell back into the criminal life he had sworn to abandon, has provided a tragic epilogue to a saga that had already done much to expose the racial divisions in American justice. While local police officers - who had vehemently opposed Johnson's early release - privately celebrated and said 'we told you so', others close to the case feared it would only reinforce white stereotypes of ingrained criminality in the black community. It was unclear why Johnson, who had seemed to be heading for a life of great promise, should have thrown it all away to commit a bungled armed robbery with his elder brother Darryl. There were, however, reports of financial hardship in his family. Johnson's death may have reopened old racial wounds, but Blanche Claggett, mother of one of Johnson's victims, said: 'We're relieved. We don't have to worry about him any more.'