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O’Malley Commutes 2 Life Sentences

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — For the first time in his tenure, Gov. Martin O’Malley commuted two life prison sentences on Thursday, for a then-14-year-old boy involved in a fatal robbery and a woman whose boyfriend killed a man she met in a bar.

The governor signed executive orders to grant conditional commutations for Mark Farley Grant and Tamara Settles. Grant’s life term was commuted to a term of life with all but 45 years suspended. Settles’ life term was commuted to a term of life with all but 40 years suspended.

The commutations do not immediately release them. The state’s parole commission will have the discretion to parole them in advance of mandatory release dates without further approval by the governor.

The parole commission and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services also will create a transition plan to help them return to life outside of prison. Grant and Settles also will be supervised by the department after their release.

O’Malley, a Democrat who is in the second year of his second term, has previously denied 49 commutation requests, four parole recommendations and four medical parole recommendations from inmates serving life sentences. He has granted two medical paroles for inmates who were not serving life sentences.

The governor’s decisions to commute the sentences comes near the end of 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 technically apply to commutations, administration officials have said the governor wants to comply with the spirit of the law to make decisions on early prison release within 180 days.

Grant was acquitted of first-degree murder and convicted of felony murder in 1984 in a Baltimore robbery involving other boys. He was 14 at the time of shooting. 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 has 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.

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. 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 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.

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

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