Gov. William Donald Schaefer will grant clemency to eight imprisoned women convicted of killing abusive husbands or boyfriends, the governor's office announced today.
The women are victims of what experts call battered spouse syndrome. Under Maryland law, the women were prohibited from raising the syndrome as a defense at their trials.
"The governor has met several of the women and he has been very impressed by the circumstances that led to their imprisonment," said Paul E. Schurick, the governor's press secretary. "He sympathizes with the difficulty they have had in the courts trying to explain their circumstances that led to the crime -- the inability they had in explaining the details, the past history of being battered."
The names of the eight women being freed were not immediately available. There are at least 15 women in prison in Maryland who should be considered battered spouses, according to the Public Justice Center, an advocacy group in Baltimore.
Michael Millemann, chairman of the center, called Schaefer's decision "spectacular" but promised that his group would keep working for clemency for the other imprisoned battered women who were bypassed by Schaefer.
Schaefer last month visited the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup and talked with five inmates who said they were battered spouses.
Schaefer planned to discuss the clemency decisions this afternoon at a news conference to be attended by U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-8th, who helped alert Schaefer to the issue last year, and by the reigning Miss America, Marjorie Vincent, who has adopted the issue as a personal cause.
The governor also was planning today to reiterate his support for a bill pending in the legislature that would make it easier for women to raise battered spouse syndrome as a legal defense. Schaefer's staff has worked out changes in the legislation that will make it palatable to the State's Attorneys' Association, Schurick said.
"I think [the clemencies] are very appropriate," said Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., D-City, the main House sponsor of the pending legislation. "I think the legislation is a way of dealing with the situation in the future, but he is trying to rectify perhaps some problems that have existed in the past."
Schaefer was also slated to announce a new initiative to educate women and children about how to stop domestic abuse, Schurick said.
The governor will sign executive orders commuting the eight women's sentences in the next couple of weeks, his spokesman said.