Sentence reduction is called improper Schaefer commuted murderer's term in 1995

October 02, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers William F. Zorzi Jr. and Joan Jacobson contributed to this article.

The Caroline County prosecutor is trying to undo one of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's final acts in office in 1995 -- the commutation of the double-life sentence of a man who murdered two Eastern Shore teen-agers in 1972.

Caroline County State's Attorney Christian J. Jensen said Schaefer's decision to reduce Scott Fleming Caldwell's sentence was improper because he did not publicize his decision as required by the Maryland Constitution.

Schaefer granted the commutation on his final day in office at the request of Caldwell's attorney, former Gov. Marvin Mandel, a longtime Schaefer friend and ally.

Jensen took the unusual step of having Schaefer subpoenaed to testify last week before a county grand jury to explain his commutation.

Officials said that during his testimony, Schaefer defended his last-minute decision to reduce Caldwell's sentence to 45 years, a move that boosted Caldwell's chances for parole significantly. Schaefer could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In commuting the sentence, Schaefer appeared to rely heavily on a plea from Mandel. Public safety officials said Schaefer did not follow his usual practice of asking for an in-depth review of the case.

Jensen said that the grand jury is looking at "what happened and how can we make sure nothing ever happens again like this."

"The grand jury wants to know how a convicted double murderer serving two consecutive life sentences can possibly have his sentences commuted and no one be notified," Jensen said.

He said that while Schaefer violated a provision in the state constitution that requires a governor to place a newspaper ad to publicize commutations, the omission was not a crime, and Jensen does not expect to bring charges in the matter.

But he said he intends to file a legal challenge to Schaefer's commutation to make sure Caldwell stays in prison.

"I have every intention of continuing to see this thing through and try to get that commutation overturned," said Jensen, who, like Schaefer and Mandel, is a Democrat.

Meanwhile, Mandel has continued to press for parole for Caldwell, who is 46. The Parole Commission granted conditional parole for Caldwell in May -- an order that was revoked in July after Jensen protested.

Caldwell remains incarcerated at Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup.

The recent news of Schaefer's commutation and Caldwell's possible parole has angered many in Caroline County, where the murders are still well remembered after a quarter-century.

Caldwell, then a student at Morgan State University, was convicted in 1973 of the murders the previous year of sisters Cynthia and Patricia Dean, 13 and 18.

The girls were shot to death at their family's coin laundry on Route 404 outside Hillsboro during an early-morning robbery that netted $28.

Caldwell's accomplice received a life term.

Caldwell, who was found to be the killer, received two consecutive life terms plus 11 years in prison for the murders and related armed robbery and handgun charges.

More than two decades later, in December 1994, Mandel asked Schaefer to consider commuting the sentence, citing Caldwell's support from his family in upstate New York.

Caldwell had gotten a college degree while in prison and had, in cooperation with state corrections officials, visited several schools and colleges to speak to young people about avoiding prison, Mandel said.

"The family is not seeking a pardon or commutation so he may immediately be freed, but that he may be eligible for parole," Mandel wrote in a letter to Schaefer in December 1994. "During Mr. Caldwell's long incarceration his family has provided strong support for Scott and continues to do so."

Unlike with most pardons and commutations requested of the governor, Schaefer did not ask for an investigation by state public safety officials. But he did refer Mandel's request to Paul J. Davis, then-chairman of the Parole Commission.

In a memo to Schaefer dated Jan. 10, 1995, Davis recommended against a reduction in sentence, noting that Caldwell was already eligible to be considered for parole. His chances of getting it were slim, however, if the two life sentences remained on the books.

After receiving a copy of Davis' memo, Mandel said he asked Schaefer to proceed with the commutation. Schaefer issued the order Jan. 18, 1995, the same day Parris N. Glendening was sworn in as governor.

Richard B. Rosenblatt, an assistant attorney general with the state public safety department, agreed with prosecutor Jensen's assessment that the failure to advertise the commutation violated the state constitution.

"The Constitution of Maryland requires publication of any pardon and, therefore, any commutation," Rosenblatt said. "Certainly any order that is not done pursuant to constitutional mandate would be subject to challenge."

This spring, more than two years after the commutation, Caldwell nearly won his release from prison when the Parole Commission granted him parole on the condition that officials in New York agree to supervise him.

Commissioners Maceo M. Williams and Frank G. Pappas signed the May order.

If he is not paroled, Caldwell would have to remain in prison until at least July 2005, according to state public safety spokesman Leonard A. Sipes.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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