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O’Malley Considers Commuting 2 Murder Sentences

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — For the first time, Gov. Martin O’Malley has decided to publish notice in a newspaper that he is considering commuting life sentences for two Maryland prison inmates, aides said.

The public notice, which will be published in The Daily Record on Wednesday, does not mean the governor has reached a final decision about whether he will commute the sentences, his aides said.

The inmates are Mark Farley Grant, who was sentenced in 1984 for felony murder in Baltimore that occurred when he was 14, and Tamara Settles, who was convicted of felony murder in 1985, even though she was not the person who shot the victim in Prince George’s County.

However, O’Malley’s aides said the notice is a significant step in the commutation process that has not happened yet during the governor’s tenure.

“There is a position,” said Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. “If the governor was not comfortable with these to this point, he would have said: `No.”‘

Notice is being published in an effort to make sure relatives of victims have an opportunity to provide input before the governor makes a final decision. The administration already has made extensive efforts to reach relatives of victims, Mahoney said.

“Publication has the benefit of reaching greater people than we can reach through our internal process,” said Elizabeth Harris, O’Malley’s chief legal counsel.

The Grant case has received publicity in Baltimore, where Dan Rodricks, a columnist for The Baltimore Sun, has championed clemency for Grant in his columns. Grant was acquitted of first-degree murder and convicted of felony murder in a robbery involving other boys. The jury wasn’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Grant was the triggerman. Instead, he was convicted of participating in a robbery that led to the murder.

There were two witnesses in the case, including a co-defendant and a friend of the victim. The friend, Mardell Brawner, has since recanted his story that Grant shot Michael Gough in a robbery over a coat. Brawner now said he did not implicate the co-defendant because he was afraid of his family. In addition, the prosecutor in the case has written a letter to O’Malley supporting commutation.

The current Baltimore state’s attorney also does not oppose clemency.

The victim’s brother, Steven, who met Grant in prison, has submitted information to the governor’s office supporting Grant’s release.

“We’re continuing to reach out to family members and the publication process will help in that effort,” said Rick Abbuzzese, O’Malley’s director of public affairs.

Settles, who is now 53, has served 27 years in prison. She was convicted of felony murder in the 1984 slaying of Charles Fowler in Hyattsville. Settles met Fowler in a Washington bar and drove him to the scene of a robbery when her boyfriend shot Fowler to death.

Her boyfriend has been out of prison for 19 years after serving nine years because his lawyer successfully petitioned to have his sentence reduced. Settles’ attorney, however, was found to be ineffective, and one of her later lawyers was indicted for theft.

Settles has received an associate’s degree and is working toward a bachelor’s degree at Morgan State University. The parole commission has recommended a commutation, and the state’s attorney’s office in Prince George’s County does not oppose it.

While there is no set time to allow for public comment, Harris said the administration intends to make a decision on the two commutations by the end of March. That would mark 180 days since a new law went into effect requiring the governor to make a decision on parole recommendations within that time, or else the parole commission’s recommendation would go into effect.

Although the law does not apply to commutations, Harris said the administration is working to comply with the spirit of the law to make decisions on early prison release within 180 days.

O’Malley, a Democrat who is in the second year of his second term, has so far denied early release for 57 inmates serving life in prison during his tenure as governor. In addition to the two commutations he is now weighing, two other requests also have been made recently. Of all the life sentence cases that have been forwarded to the governor by the state’s parole commission, all but 11 are serving life sentences for murder. The other eleven have been convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, rape or attempted rape of an elderly woman during a home invasion.

If the governor were to grant a commutation request, neither inmate would be released immediately. The parole commission would be directed to develop a transition plan with tailored programs and services. The governor also would impose specific pre-release and post-release conditions. The person released would remain under supervision.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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