Commuted term was typical of Schaefer As governor, he relied on instincts, advice of longtime friend

October 04, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

When word surfaced recently that former Gov. William Donald Schaefer had quietly commuted the double-life sentence of a convicted Eastern Shore murderer in 1995, the prosecutor and others familiar with the crime were outraged.

But to some, the commutation was vintage Schaefer -- enveloped as it was in his longtime friendship with the inmate's attorney, former Gov. Marvin Mandel, and sealed by Schaefer's seemingly heartfelt belief in second chances.

"He did rely on guts and instinct," said Paul E. Schurick, Schaefer's one-time chief of staff. "He did rely on other people's judgments and recommendations."

On his last day in office in January 1995, Schaefer reduced the double-life term of Scott F. Caldwell to 45 years in prison for the 1972 murders of two teen-age sisters in Caroline County.

Pushing the commutation was Mandel, who told Schaefer that )) Caldwell had been a model prisoner still supported by his family after 22 years behind bars.

In the end, Schaefer said this week, he was persuaded by Mandel -- a trusted friend of many years -- and didn't even bother state or local public safety officials for advice.

"The man was a great prisoner," Schaefer said. "Do you have a system [for gubernatorial clemency] or don't you?"

Prosecutors have complained that Schaefer skirted usual procedures and left out important people in the process.

"The governor shouldn't do it without talking to the prosecutor who worked so hard to get a conviction and an appropriate sentence," said Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee. "You should certainly talk to the victim's family."

"I'm not saying there aren't appropriate cases for the governor to use the power of commutation," Weathersbee said. "But you ought to have a little information in front of you before you do it."

But Frank Dunbaugh, an attorney who helped persuade Schaefer in 1994 to free a woman who had been convicted in the murders of her parents two decades earlier, praised Schaefer for having the nerve to make tough clemency decisions.

"He wasn't a flaming liberal running out putting people on the street," Dunbaugh said. "But he was willing to exercise the judgment. And he did have a heart."

The flak is nothing new for Schaefer, who was attacked several times during his eight years in office for acts of executive clemency.

In perhaps the most dramatic of those, Schaefer in 1991 commuted prison sentences for eight women he judged to be victims of "battered spouse syndrome," seven of whom had killed husbands or boyfriends. The commutations were sought by an advocacy group for battered women.

Before reaching a decision, Schaefer was torn and insisted on visiting with the women at the state prison in Jessup.

"Everyone in there was crying, including him," Schurick recalled. "When I left that room, I knew without a doubt what his decision was going to be."

Ultimately, Schaefer was criticized after The Sun reported that he had not been given a full picture of some of the women's crimes.

Even so, Schaefer entered the same waters in 1994 when he freed Linda Sue Glazier, accepting her argument that abuse as a child led to her role in the 1974 murders of her parents in Cambridge.

Schaefer received dozens of testimonials on her behalf, but was apparently swayed largely by a conversation he had with an Episcopal bishop who knew Glazier.

In 1994, after again receiving a large stack of letters, he commuted the 10-year prison sentence of former Prince George's County Councilman Anthony Cicoria, convicted of misappropriating $64,000 in campaign funds and later violating his probation by leaving the state.

The same year, Schaefer heeded an appeal from the widow of Jerome S. Cardin and pardoned him posthumously for his

conviction of stealing $385,000 from Old Court Savings and Loan.

And Schaefer pardoned former Baltimore County State's Attorney Samuel A. Green Jr., who was convicted on corruption charges 20 years earlier. Schaefer said he wanted to allow the disgraced prosecutor to clear his name and save his children further embarrassment.

"Someday you may need something," he explained at the time. "And you may find some governor who has a little bit of a heart."

The rapid-fire series of pardons -- which came only a few weeks before Schaefer's last-day commutation for Caldwell -- upset some lawmakers so much that the General Assembly came close the next year to passing a constitutional amendment prohibiting such acts of clemency by a lame-duck governor.

In the Caldwell matter, a grand jury in Caroline County has been investigating Schaefer's commutation and took the unusual step subpoenaing the former governor to testify, something Schaefer willingly did last week.

While no criminal charges are being sought, Caroline County State's Attorney Christian J. Jensen is investigating how to challenge Schaefer's action in court, saying the former governor violated the state Constitution by not publicizing the commutation.

Pub Date: 10/04/97

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