Wallace shooter hints a motive In letter last year, Bremer assailed racism governor renounced

September 15, 1998|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

Arthur Herman Bremer, who paralyzed former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace and then spurned his offers of forgiveness, has argued he should be freed from prison because shooting "segregationist dinosaurs" is not as serious as harming mainstream politicians.

The comments came in an angry, disjointed letter that Bremer wrote to Maryland parole officials last year and that was obtained yesterday by The Sun. Wallace died Sunday at 79.

Bremer has never publicly discussed his case. The three-page letter and a 33-page transcript of Bremer's 1996 parole hearing provide the new clues about his feelings toward the Southern populist who "stood in the schoolhouse door," as he once bragged, in a failed attempt to keep blacks out of the University of Alabama.

Bremer, 48, has been serving a 53-year sentence at the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown since his conviction in 1972 for shooting Wallace. With time off for good behavior, he could be released in 2015, possibly sooner.

Psychological testing last year indicated releasing Bremer would be risky, said his parole records. "This man tried to kill George Wallace because he disagreed with him," Patricia Cushwa, chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, said yesterday.

Bremer was a 21-year-old former busboy when he shot Wallace during a political rally in the parking lot of the Laurel Shopping Center -- after giving up on plans to assassinate President Richard M. Nixon. Three other people were injured in his attack.

Since then, Bremer has steadfastly refused to speak with the press.

Even in his letter and in the parole hearing transcripts, Bremer never states why he attempted the assassination, but he addresses for the first time his feelings about Wallace's policies of segregation, which the governor later renounced.

Bremer was first eligible for parole in 1985 but waited 11 years before seeking it -- apparently, said Cushwa, because he did not want to discuss the case.

In 1996, however, he met with Thomas Pennewell, a hearing officer with the Maryland Parole Commission. After Pennewell recommended against parole and then-chairman Paul Davis agreed, Bremer wrote his letter to an appellate panel.

In it, he expresses disgust with Wallace's segregationist past and criticized him and the parole board. He cited Pennewell's written rejection of his parole petition, which said that to free Bremer would "effectively proclaim an 'open hunting season' on" other politicians.

'They are extinct'

In Bremer's letter, dated Feb. 10, 1997, the would-be assassin replied: "Mr. Pennewell took it upon himself to stand in front of my jail-house door. His equating a segregationist with all politicos is inconceivable to me. No 'open hunting season' exists on segregationist dinosaurs. They are extinct, not endangered, by an act of God."

Wallace's health had been declining since the shooting. Several times, he expressed a dying wish to meet Bremer so he could personally forgive him.

David Azbell, a spokesman for the Wallace family, said Bremer's comments were not surprising, given that he rejected Wallace's attempts to reach out to him.

"I know that Arthur Bremer's actions on May 15, 1972, led to a life of pain for Governor Wallace, pain that he felt every day of his life -- physical pain," Azbell said last night. "Arthur Bremer robbed Governor Wallace of his ability to walk, robbed him of his national political career, and I'll tell you that George Wallace was a much better man than I in that he had the ability to love and forgive Arthur Bremer."

To the appellate panel, Wallace wrote in 1997: "By the time Bremer is released from prison in the next century, I will be gone from this Earth. In the meantime, I pray that the Lord will give him solace as well as the strength to become a productive member of society."

Wallace: 'I love you'

And to Bremer, the former governor wrote: "I am a born-again Christian. I love you."

Bremer never replied.

At various times, Bremer's parole records show, he has worked in the Hagerstown prison as a machine operator, a welder, a supply clerk and an education aide. Through newspaper articles, he has followed the lives of the others he wounded: the Alabama trooper who was promoted to colonel, the Secret Service agent who rose to supervisor, the young campaign worker who continued being a housewife.

He also followed the career of Wallace, the man he crippled.

Wallace "continued to be chief executive of Alabama," Bremer said at his parole hearing of June 6, 1996, according to the transcript. "But, whatever is his specific job title, his full-time job was that of segregationist, and it was not benevolent segregation, but a racial segregation of in your face, a 'you get out of here, boy' type of segregation."

Shortly after the shooting, a diary written by Bremer was discovered at a Milwaukee construction site. He fought in court to have it returned, but he lost and then wept as 113 pages were read aloud in an Upper Marlboro courtroom.

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