Bremer got no mental health help

Wallace assailant refused treatment while in prison

August 25, 2007|By Greg Garland and Jennifer Skalka | Greg Garland and Jennifer Skalka,Sun reporters

When Arthur Bremer walks out of a Maryland prison in a few months after 35 years behind bars, the would-be assassin will leave without having received psychological or mental health treatment that could have helped him adjust to life on the outside, the state's Parole Commission chairman said yesterday.

Bremer, who shot Democratic presidential candidate George C. Wallace in Laurel in 1972, has refused to participate in mental health treatment programs while incarcerated, said David R. Blumberg, chairman of the commission, adding that it could be made a condition of Bremer's release that he see a counselor regularly and that he could be returned to prison if he didn't comply.

At his trial, Bremer unsuccessfully pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

"I don't think he is the same person he was in 1972, but we'd like to find out more about who he is today," Blumberg said. "To the extent he hasn't allowed us to do that, it's disappointing."

Bremer revealed a troubled history in a 133-page journal that was read aloud at his trial. In the journal, he said he had stalked President Richard M. Nixon and wanted to make a "statement of my manhood for the world to see."

When the state Parole Commission turned down his release request in 1996, he wrote an angry letter deriding Wallace as a "segregationist dinosaur."

Bremer's younger brother Roger Bremer said this week that authorities had told him Arthur Bremer "doesn't talk and won't say what's on his mind."

Blumberg said a mental health provider would have to evaluate Bremer to determine whether he needs psychological counseling.

"We don't know if it's an issue or not because he hasn't let anybody get close enough to determine what his needs are," Blumberg said.

Bremer, 57, has had an exemplary record in the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, earning enough credits though work and general good behavior to warrant early release, officials said.

Bremer was sentenced to 53 years in prison for shooting Wallace, then the governor of Alabama, and three others during a political rally at a shopping mall. The shooting paralyzed Wallace from the waist down and derailed his campaign. He went on to serve two more gubernatorial terms.

Though Bremer will be required to report to a parole agent, hold a steady job and steer clear of controlled substances and weapons, his discharge has prompted questions about whether he has been adequately rehabilitated and, more broadly, about his psychological well-being after he rejected mental health care.

A source with specific knowledge of Bremer's case said the inmate has been housed, at his own request, at a mental health unit at the prison. The source, who asked not to be identified because Bremer's medical care is private, said Bremer that felt safer there but that the placement did not reflect any psychological condition. The source said Bremer has suffered from depression but has never been medicated.

Asked whether he considers Bremer potentially dangerous, Blumberg said, "You look at his prison behavior, and you can take some solace in that. He's been able to follow institutional rules, and he's been a model prisoner. On the other hand, the last time he was in a position to make choices, he made a very, very bad choice."

Arthur A. Marshall Jr., who as Prince George's County state's attorney prosecuted Bremer in 1972, said yesterday that Bremer has served "pretty solid time" and that he was not surprised to learn of his imminent release. Marshall also said that Bremer needed counseling 35 years ago.

"His whole defense was a psychiatric defense," said Marshall, now on the board of review for Patuxent Institution, a maximum-security facility that houses inmates with more serious mental health problems. "He needed it then. I don't think many people are cured after 35 years in jail."

Richard B. Rosenblatt, assistant secretary for treatment services for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Bremer would have been housed at Patuxent if he had needed rigorous psychological counseling.

"The person he spoke to the most in Hagerstown was a psychology associate," Rosenblatt said. "They had a very good relationship."

Rosenblatt said the prison system is not set up to treat certain behavioral problems: "There's no program for it. In other words, there is no behavioral modification for the 75 percent of the [prison] population who have personality disorders. To do that in a prison environment requires a huge infusion of resources that is not currently available."

Blumberg said Secret Service agents preparing for Bremer's release recently asked for a psychological evaluation of Bremer by mental health professionals but that Bremer refused and can't be forced to undergo one.

The last time Bremer underwent a psychological review was in 1996, when he agreed to one after requesting early parole. He was denied.

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