WASHINGTON -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer says he's going to look into the process used to commute the sentences of eight female prisoners last month and suggests a mistake may have been made in one woman's case.
But Schaefer defended the principles on which he based his now-controversial decision to free a group of women said to suffer from "battered spouse syndrome." And, even while suggesting a mistake may have been made in one case, he is sticking by his decision, the governor said yesterday following a meeting with the Maryland congressional delegation.
"Would I commute the same ones again? Most likely," he told reporters here. Schaefer's comments were his first statements to reporters on Maryland issues since returning Sunday from a trip to Kuwait.
Schaefer was upbeat as he answered questions on a range of topics. He renewed his criticism of the Maryland legislature for knocking down his major initiatives, ranked himself as one of the nation's best governors and rebutted inquiries about his mental health this way:
"If I weren't in pretty good shape, do you think I would have been the only governor selected to go to Kuwait? Would I be the governor of a state with a triple-A bond rating, that's moving so well in higher education and all these things?"
A reporter posed the question by saying some people were wondering about his mental health in the wake of news reports about his behavior -- notably his nasty responses to citizens who criticize him and his vulgar aside to legislators about the Eastern Shore.
"I've done a lot of these things for years," he said. "I send letters out, which I've been doing for 20 years. The newspaper grabs a hold of one and makes a big deal out of it. That's all right, I'm fine. Everything is just great. We're just as optimistic as we can be."
Schaefer professed to be amused by some of the comments -- but not by the legislature. He urged Maryland members of Congress to talk to state legislators, who have killed his proposed gasoline tax increase, the $800 million Linowes tax-restructuring plan and statewide restrictions on development.
What should members of Congress tell the legislators?
" 'Listen to the governor,' " said the governor. " 'He's one of the best in the country, he's No. 1 as far as going overseas, pretty well thought of in the National Governor's Association and if we just have a little bit of vision instead of figuring out, oh, we're going to show him who's boss.' "
Schaefer was most defensive on the commutation issue and criticized the press for printing "half-truths" about his decision.
The Sun reported Sunday that the process used to evaluate seven of the cases -- those involving women who killed men -- was not comprehensive. The article, based partly on documented information the Schaefer administration allegedly overlooked, also raised questions about the extent of abuse suffered by some of the women.
At one point yesterday, Schaefer seemed to concede a mistake in one unspecified case:
"If it was an error, been an error. But am I wrong on the principles? The answer is absolutely not. All of a sudden everyone agrees with the principles I am for now. They know I'm right on that. So, in order to possibly discredit the fact that I am right, I made a mistake on one commutation. So we'll look it over, we'll get a better process."
But when asked again in a follow-up question whether a mistake had been made, he said he didn't know. Then he proceeded to discuss one case, in which he identified the woman only as "W," saying that, contrary to press reports, she had in fact been abused.
"The person has been abused," Schaefer said, "actually abused since the time she was 3 years old and she thinks she wasn't abused. Now there are psychological reasons for this. I know she was, but the paper says that she says she wasn't abused. And there's evidence that is there. . . . Depends on what you want to do. If you want to discredit, you use half-truths, if you want to be accurate you use the whole truth."