Arthur Bremer, who shot and paralyzed Democratic presidential candidate George C. Wallace during a Laurel campaign event in 1972, will be released from a Maryland prison before year's end, state officials said.
Bremer, a loner from Milwaukee who attempted to find fame by targeting the then-Alabama governor and one-time segregationist, has served 35 years of a 53-year sentence. He is expected to win early freedom from the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown as a result of "good conduct credits" earned by being a prison education aide, among other responsibilities.
Bremer is scheduled to be released with court supervision Dec. 16, but he could be free as early as November, according to state corrections officials. Bremer, who wounded three others during the Laurel shootings, was denied parole in 1996 by a hearing officer who determined that releasing Bremer "would unduly depreciate the circumstances of this offense."
But Ruth Ogle, program manager for the Maryland Parole Commission, said yesterday that Bremer has earned his freedom; the Maryland prison system rewards good behavior and in-prison work with reduced sentencing.
Officials do not believe Bremer's mental health is an issue, she said, despite a history of instability made clear by Bremer's 113-page journal, which was read aloud during his 1972 trial. He wept in an Upper Marlboro courtroom as his innermost thoughts became public. A Prince George's County jury rejected his insanity defense and convicted him.
"There's no indication that I see that this individual is emotionally unstable," Ogle said yesterday.
Bremer, 57, will be supervised by court officials when he leaves the medium-security facility in Hagerstown. Though he could request a transfer to another state, he will be required, wherever he settles, to report to a parole agent regularly, to hold a steady job and to steer clear of controlled dangerous substances or weapons.
Ogle noted that David Blumberg, chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, has already said he will require Bremer to stay away from political candidates, rallies, dinners or public appearances. All elected officials and candidates, domestic and foreign, will be off-limits to Bremer. If he violates the conditions, he can be returned to prison.
The Press-Register of Mobile, Ala., first reported Bremer's planned release yesterday.
Reached in Birmingham, Ala., yesterday, Peggy Wallace Kennedy - one of Wallace's four children - said in a soft voice that before his death in 1998, her father had reached out to Bremer repeatedly in hand-written letters and forgiven Bremer. If her father could find peace with what had happened, Wallace Kennedy said, she would, too. But the early release, she said, was unjust.
"He hurt a lot of people and a lot of families, and I guess, maybe, I would like to see him serve it out," she said.
Bremer's younger brother, Roger, who lives in Milwaukee, said U.S. Secret Service agents contacted him this past spring about the possibility of Arthur Bremer moving in with him in Wisconsin after he's released.
"The Secret Service told me they don't want him around the Washington, D.C., area," Roger Bremer told The Sun. "They wanted to see if I could set up with Arthur, see if he could stay here."
But Roger Bremer, 53, said he is wary of what his bother might be like after 35 years in prison.
"I'd be afraid to see him," Roger Bremer said. "Nobody knows what he'll be like after all these years. He's 57 years old. How's he going to find a job?"
Roger Bremer said he spoke with his brother by telephone for about 40 minutes after his conversation with the agent, and his brother asked for help in getting him released.
Although he has had little contact with his brother over the years, Roger Bremer said his parents would visit Arthur at the prison twice a year when they could travel. Bremer's mother died in February at age 92; his father died in 2002. Other brothers live in Wisconsin and Florida, a sister in California.
Roger Bremer said he was told by authorities that his brother was "kind of like a hermit" in prison and "doesn't talk and won't say what's on his mind."
He said his brother didn't specifically ask to move in. "I don't think he wants to," Roger Bremer said. "He was always a loner and he wants to be independent."
Elizabeth Bartholomew, spokeswoman for the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation, said that agency has been working with the parole commission, prison system officials and the FBI on a plan for Bremer's release. Assuming he stays in Maryland, housing will be arranged for Bremer, and he will be closely supervised for the remainder of his sentence. He would likely stay in a supervised housing facility, such as a shelter or halfway house, she said.
Compacts between states allow for transfer if an inmate has a family member willing to take him in, has a job or was a resident of the other state at the time crime was committed.