Grant's waited long enough for justice

January 14, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

That's nice, Martin O'Malley wanting to promote offshore wind energy. And that's nice, the governor wanting to give a $3,000 tax credit to businesses that hire the unemployed. In tough economic times, and an election year, Maryland's governor demonstrates both progressive thinking on energy and empathy with people out of work.

It would be nice if he threw a little of that Mark Farley Grant's way.

Just to recap - because it has been five months and six days since I first told you about this - an investigation by the Innocence Project at the University of Maryland School of Law concluded that Mr. Grant, a 41-year-old prisoner serving a life sentence in Hagerstown, did not commit the murder for which he was convicted when he was 15.

The students and professors involved in the Innocence Project took on Mr. Grant's case, which goes back to West Baltimore in January 1983 and the fatal shooting of a teenager named Michael Gough.

After a lengthy investigation, the Innocence Project found that the lead witness against Mr. Grant lied in Baltimore Circuit Court under threat of death by the real killer's relatives; that another teenager, who placed Mr. Grant away from the scene of the crime, never testified at trial; and that Mr. Grant's co-defendant, who took a deal and testified for the state, failed a polygraph test prior to trial, a fact never revealed to Mr. Grant's defense.

The Innocence Project report identified the actual killer, a young man involved in a west-side drug gang and later shot to death. The report cites numerous sources for this and provides affidavits from several witnesses. "Mark Grant did not kill Michael Gough," the report concludes. "There is now no question about the fact."

The Innocence Project report went to Mr. O'Malley's office in the summer of 2008. It was brought to my attention in the summer of 2009.

When I started calling about it, in August, Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the governor, said the case was "under review." At another point he said the governor and his legal counsel would read the report "at the appropriate time."

Wednesday, Mr. Abbruzzese said essentially what he said in August: "The governor's legal counsel is still reviewing the file. They have asked for some clarification from the Parole Board on some items and the review process is ongoing."

I know: Busy guy, our governor, and a tough-on-crime/no-parole politician up for re-election.

But the Innocence Project at the University of Maryland Law School is a credible organization; it brought forth in 2003 the case of Walter Arvinger and proved that he had been wrongly convicted of a murder in Baltimore in 1968. In 2004, then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich commuted Mr. Arvinger's sentence; he had spent 36 years in prison.

I get letters frequently from men in prison claiming their innocence; there are four such letters on my desk right now. In the matter of Mr. Grant, the governor has had the benefit of others doing the heavy lifting and fact-finding. Students and professors at one of the state's two law schools - the one from which Martin O'Malley graduated in 1988 - spent two years reviewing his case before deciding to take it on. They spent another two years gathering information and securing affidavits. They and their client deserved more attention than this, and a lot sooner.

Under a law that came out of the 2009 General Assembly, Mr. Grant's representatives have the option of petitioning for a "writ of actual innocence," an opportunity to present new evidence to a court.

But when I asked Renee Hutchins, one of the law professors who worked on this case, about that option, she said: "Litigation was not intended as a substitute for executive clemency. Mark is an innocent man who has served more than 26 years in jail. The governor has the power to end that injustice today. Even after more than a year, I continue to remain hopeful that the governor will act on Mark's request for clemency."

Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundays in print and online, and Tuesdays online-only. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM.

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