(CBS/AP) ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has published notice that he is considering commuting life sentences for two Maryland prison inmates convicted of felony murder in the 1980s.
The inmates are Mark Farley Grant, who was sentenced in 1984 for felony murder in Baltimore that occurred when he was 14, and Tamara Settles, who was convicted of felony murder in 1985, even though she was not the person who shot the victim in Prince George's County, reports CBS Baltimore.
The public notice, published in The Daily Record on Wednesday, does not mean the governor has reached a final decision about whether he will commute the sentences, his aides said.
Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, says that the governor is publishing notice to give relatives of the victims an opportunity to provide input before he makes a final decision. The administration already has made extensive efforts to reach the relatives, Mahoney said.
The Grant case has received publicity in Baltimore, where Dan Rodricks, a columnist for The Baltimore Sun, has championed clemency. Grant was acquitted of first-degree murder and convicted of felony murder in a robbery involving other boys. The jury wasn't convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Grant was the triggerman. Instead, he was convicted of participating in a robbery that led to the murder.
One of the two witnesses in the case, a friend of the victim named Mardell Brawner, has since recanted his story that Grant shot Michael Gough in a robbery over a coat. Brawner now said he did not implicate the co-defendant because he was afraid of his family. In addition, the prosecutor in the case has written a letter to O'Malley supporting commutation.
The current Baltimore state's attorney also does not oppose clemency.
In the other case, Tamara Settles was convicted of felony murder in the 1984 slaying of Charles Fowler in Hyattsville. Settles met Fowler in a Washington bar and drove him to the scene of a robbery where her boyfriend shot Fowler to death. Settles, who is now 53, has served 27 years in prison.
Her boyfriend has been out of prison for 19 years after serving nine years because his lawyer successfully petitioned to have his sentence reduced. Settles' attorney, however, was found to be ineffective, and one of her later lawyers was indicted for theft.
Settles has received an associate's degree and is working toward a bachelor's degree at Morgan State University. The parole commission has recommended a commutation, and the state's attorney's office in Prince George's County does not oppose it.
Elizabeth Harris, Gov. O'Malley's chief legal counsel, said the administration intends to make a decision on the two commutations by the end of March.
O'Malley, a Democrat who is in the second year of his second term, has so far denied early release for 57 inmates serving life in prison.
Earlier this year, outgoing Mississippi governor Haley Barbour was criticized for issuing pardons to more than 200 inmates, including more than two dozen who had been convicted of homicide or manslaughter. The state's attorney general Jim Hood opposed the pardons, saying Barbour had not issued mandated public notice. Several of those pardoned were ordered back to Mississippi and on Feb. 9, the Mississippi Supreme Court heard arguments over whether the pardons were properly issued, according to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.