Schaefer says Stevenson was a 'model prisoner'

October 08, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer commuted the life sentence of a Kent County woman who burned her husband to death because she has been a "model prisoner," a spokesman said yesterday.

The commutation of Dorothy Lou Stevenson's first-degree murder sentence was sharply criticized this week by the judge in the case and the victim's brother. But Joseph L. Harrison Jr., Mr. Schaefer's press secretary, defended the decision.

"The governor is a tough man, but he is a compassionate man. I think he sees a remorseful 53-year-old woman who made a terrible mistake 17 years ago but who has paid her debt to society, and she now wants to live some of the life she has left," Mr. Harrison said.

A Kent County jury convicted Stevenson of killing her husband, Thomas, after hearing testimony that she had poured gasoline on him while he slept and set him on fire in 1977. Hours earlier, she had found him with another woman. He died from his injuries a few weeks later.

Mr. Harrison said she has spent 16 years behind bars without a single violation of prison rules.

She earned her way into a pre-release program that allowed her to work in Baltimore and attend weekly counseling sessions. The pre-release program is considered to be the last leg in the road toward parole.

However, Stevenson and other "lifers" were yanked from the program last year after a well-publicized murder and two escapes by other inmates in the program.

With her progress toward parole temporarily halted, Stevenson asked the governor to release her from prison. "I am very aware of the seriousness of my crime," she said in her clemency petition. "I know that I can never pay for the life I took away."

Officials at the House of Ruth, a shelter in Baltimore for battered women, contacted one of Mr. Schaefer's aides about the petition. A counselor there has described Stevenson as having been emotionally abused by her husband, though there was no indication of physical abuse.

The Maryland Parole Commission recommended that Mr. Schaefer shorten Stevenson's sentence from life to 50 years, which would make it easier for her to win parole. Mr. Schaefer showed a little more leniency. He ordered her to be freed but placed under a parole agent's supervision for five years.

Parole Commission Chairman Paul J. Davis said he did not believe that any commissioners would be concerned by her release.

Stevenson is still at the women's prison in Jessup because her paperwork is being processed.

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