At long last, a flicker of hope for Mark Farley Grant

Governor seeks agreement on parole but still resists claim of innocence

January 25, 2012|Dan Rodricks

The O'Malley administration has finally done something in the matter of Mark Farley Grant, the inmate whose plea for clemency — along with an investigative report that established his innocence — went to the Maryland governor 31/2 years ago.

Until now, there has been no evidence that eitherMartin O'Malleyor any member of his staff had considered the possibility that Mr. Grant had been convicted wrongly of killing a fellow teenager in Baltimore in January 1983, when Mr. Grant was 14 years old.

Several months ago, the Maryland Parole Commission recommended that Mr. Grant, now in his early 40s, be released. But the governor took no action, and Mr. Grant has remained in prison in Hagerstown.

Recently, the governor's staff asked the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office if it had any objections to Mr. Grant's release — the first sign of gubernatorial interest in the case.

"In response to his request, we informed the governor that we had no objection to his acting on the parole commission's recommendation in Mr. Grant's case," said Mark Cheshire, the spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney.

Background: In the summer of 2008, professors and students at the University of Maryland School of Law sent Mr. O'Malley a report establishing that Mr. Grant had been convicted wrongly of killing another teenager, Michael Gough, in a botched street robbery in West Baltimore on a winter night in 1983.

The report linked a third teenager, Mark "Shane" White, to the killing, and for good reason: Shane White had been the original key suspect. In fact, he had been charged with the killing of Michael Gough but made a deal with the state, pleading guilty to attempted robbery and becoming one of two witnesses against Mr. Grant. The other witness was Mardell Brawner, a friend of the victim who claimed to have seen Mr. Grant fire the murder weapon.

But, 20 years later, the investigation of Mr. Grant's case by the law students and their professors revealed the following problems:

•Shane White had failed a polygraph examination and, during it, had uttered the words, "We were not there," in reference to himself and Mr. Grant on the night of the shooting.

•Neither Mr. Grant's trial attorney nor the jury were informed that Mr. White had failed the polygraph examination.

•The corroborating testimony of the second prosecution witness, Mr. Brawner, had been coerced. Mr. Brawner told law school investigators that relatives of Mr. White had held a gun to his head in Leakin Park and had threatened to kill him unless he testified against Mr. Grant. Five years ago, during the law school's inquiry, Mr. Brawner recanted his testimony and identified Mr. White (now deceased) as the person who shot Michael Gough.

After being apprised of all this, the case's original prosecutor, Philip Dantes, wrote a letter to the governor from his private law practice in Towson.

"If I had known that Mardell Brawner had agreed to testify as he did only because he was threatened, I would not have prosecuted Mark Grant for murder," Mr. Dantes told Mr. O'Malley.

He added, "The new information that I have received through post-conviction counsel, and which I did not have available to me as the prosecutor at the time of the trial, creates serious doubt in my mind as to the culpability of Mr. Grant."

Mr. Dantes asked the governor to intervene in the case.

That was last October.

Now, with no objection from the presiding prosecutor in Baltimore, where Mr. Grant was tried for murder, the only thing that stands in the way of Mr. Grant's release is Mr. O'Malley's no-parole-for-lifers policy.

Maryland is one of only three states that invests its governor with the power to reject recommendations from parole commissions. Mr. O'Malley has embraced the "life means life" philosophy of former Gov. Parris Glendending, refusing to release any offenders convicted of rape or murder, including those, like Mark Grant, who were sentenced to life with the possibility of one day being eligible for parole.

But what's really troubling about the Grant case is Mr. O'Malley's long resistance to assessing the claim of innocence — a matter completely separate from the parole process, a matter of conscience, and a responsibility of the state's chief executive.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of the "Midday" show on WYPR-FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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