Schaefer's commutation of life term called illegal On last day in office, he reduced killer's sentence to 45 years

November 06, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

An Eastern Shore grand jury has concluded that former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's last-minute commutation of a murderer's double life sentence in 1995 was illegal and is urging the state legislature to strengthen the law requiring public notice when a governor reduces a sentence.

The report by the Caroline County grand jury, which interviewed Schaefer last month, is not legally binding on the reduction of murderer Scott F. Caldwell's sentence to 45 years.

The 23-member grand jury supported efforts by the Caroline County state's attorney to reinstate Caldwell's original sentence for the 1972 murder of two teen-agers.

State's Attorney Christian J. Jensen said yesterday that he plans to challenge Schaefer's commutation in the next few weeks in Harford County Circuit Court, where Caldwell's trial was moved from the Eastern Shore in 1973.

"The relief that we'll be requesting from the court is a reimposition of the original sentence," said Jensen, adding that he has found no other Maryland case in which a prosecutor has tried to overturn a governor's commutation.

Caldwell was convicted of murdering sisters Cynthia and Patricia Dean, 13 and 18, at their family's coin-operated laundry outside Hillsboro, in Caroline County, during a $28 robbery. At the time, Caldwell, a resident of Syracuse, N.Y., was a student at Morgan State University.

Schaefer changed Caldwell's sentence on his last day in office in 1995 without asking for an in-depth review of the case or advertising the commutation in a newspaper, as Maryland's Constitution requires.

Schaefer reduced the sentence at the request of Caldwell's lawyer, former Gov. Marvin Mandel, a Schaefer friend and political ally.

News of the commutation surfaced this year when Caldwell was granted parole, which was rescinded after parole officials found they had not told Caroline County prosecutors he might be freed.

"The commutation was not done according to the proper procedures and therefore is illegal," the grand jury said.

After meeting with members of the legislature from the Eastern Shore, the grand jury also suggested that the state's constitution be amended to require a specified period during which public notice of a pending commutation must be advertised.

Shore legislators, outraged by the Caldwell case, plan to sponsor legislation that would require a governor to advertise a pending commutation 90 days in advance.

The grand jury also supported proposed legislation that would require the governor to notify legislators in the area where the crime was committed before issuing a pardon or commutation.

In addition, the grand jury would require that the governor notify the public of a pending commutation in a newspaper that circulates in the area where the crime was committed.

"If all those things had happened before, this situation wouldn't have gotten as out of hand as it did," said Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a Dorchester County Republican.

Schaefer was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment. In an earlier interview, he defended his actions, saying Caldwell had been "a great prisoner. Do you have a system [for gubernatorial clemency] or don't you?"

Mandel also declined to comment yesterday on the grand jury's report.

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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