2 female murderers due for parole in battered-spouse cases

June 28, 1991|By William F. Zorzi Jr.

Two of four women imprisoned for murder who are being considered for early release because they said they were victims of battered spouse syndrome will be paroled, a top criminal justice aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday.

One of the women serving life for murder has been rejected as a candidate for early release, and the fourth woman's release is still being considered by Mr. Schaefer, said Nancy J. Nowak, executive director of the governor's Office of Justice Assistance.

Ms. Nowak confirmed the planned paroles of the two women after Mr. Schaefer announced on his weekly radio show that he was taking action in three of the four cases.

Mr. Schaefer had asked the Maryland Parole Commission to reinvestigate all four cases after he passed them over earlier this year in commuting the sentences of eight other women -- including seven who killed their mates -- because they said they were victims of battering.

Those commutations sparked some controversy and criticism after The Sun cited discrepancies between the legal record and summaries in three of the cases provided to the governor by aides.

Ms. Nowak denied that criticism of those commutations was the reason that formal parole, rather than commutation of sentences in a gubernatorial act of mercy, has been recommended in the cases of the latest two women expected to be released.

One of the women to be paroled is Gale Annette Hawkins, 34, who has been in prison since she stabbed her boyfriend in 1979 and who so impressed Mr. Schaefer that he referred to her when he announced the commutations of the eight other women, Ms. Nowak said.

The Maryland Parole Commission has recommended parole for Hawkins. By law, her parole requires Mr. Schaefer's approval because she is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. Since the governor has agreed with the recommendation, Hawkins could be free early next month, when her parole hearing is scheduled, Ms. Nowak said.

The second woman recommended for parole is Carolyn Sue Wallace, serving 20 years after pleading guilty to shooting her husband to death in 1985 in Baltimore County, Ms. Nowak said.

"The governor said today he wanted her paroled as soon as possible," she said.

The Parole Commission is supposed to act independently, but Mr. Schaefer has had more of a hand in these four cases, asking the board to reinvestigate them.

Wallace's next scheduled parole hearing is in August, having been moved from 1992 at the urging of the governor's office earlier this year.

Mr. Schaefer apparently has not made up his mind what to do about Marie Lake, a former prostitute who killed her boyfriend in 1982 and was sentenced to life with all but 30 years suspended, Ms. Nowak said.

But Mr. Schaefer has ruled out any action on Joyce Danna, who fatally shot her husband, a Baltimore police officer. She was convicted of first-degree murder in 1977 and sentenced to life.

Last month, Danna appealed her life term but received an identical sentence despite testimony from 16 defense witnesses about abuse by her husband. Her attorneys are appealing the resentencing and the trial to a three-judge panel.

Ms. Nowak said that since the evidence of alleged abuse has been heard by a judge who handed down the same sentence, "that puts us in a difficult position."

She also confirmed that advocates for battered women still in prison -- the Public Justice Center and the House of Ruth -- are putting together yet another list of "at least eight" other women to be considered for commutation by Mr. Schaefer.

"Having gone through the first learning experience, we will do the most comprehensive investigation, corroboration and assessment with respect to victimization and battered women syndrome as is possible," Ms. Nowak said.

The investigations of these cases will include contact with prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys, which was missing from the investigations of the first group of women, she said.

Gale Hawkins is regarded -- by fellow inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup, by psychologists and even by the prosecutor -- as the textbook example of a woman who killed because she saw no other way out.

"She really is acknowledged by the staff, the warden and everyone as being the major moving force behind the recognition of the battered spouse syndrome in the prison," Ms. Nowak said.

Carolyn Sue Wallace shot her husband in the back six times and only recently began speaking of physical abuse. An incest victim herself, Wallace feared at the time of the slaying that her husband would abuse her daughter, she has said.

After the governor passed over Marie Lake earlier this year, Lake said she was unsure why her commutation was denied. But she added that a parole official who subsequently interviewed her was concerned about her history of prostitution.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe, who sentenced Lake, is urging her release.

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