Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to commute the sentence of a Baltimore man serving a life sentence for murder, using that power for the first time during his tenure.

Mark Farley Grant's attorney Renee M. Hutchins confirmed Thursday that she had been notified of O'Malley's decision. The O'Malley administration declined to comment, but an announcement was expected this afternoon.

"[The governor] had not to this point granted any clemency requests, so I am extremely grateful to him for exercising his ability to do so in Mark's case," Hutchins said. "I'm firmly convinced of Mark's innocence, so I could not be more delighted."

Grant was convicted of felony murder at age 14 and sentenced to life in prison after being accused of shooting another teenager and stealing his coat in a street robbery in 1983. He has maintained his innocence — since his conviction, key witnesses have recanted, and the prosecutor asked O'Malley to commute the sentence.

The decision was set in motion earlier this month, when the state posted notice that the governor was considering freeing Grant and Tamara Settles, a Washington D.C. woman convicted of murder in Prince George's County.

Grant would not be released immediately. His case would go back to the parole commission, which would work to develop a transition plan. After release, he would remain under supervision.

O'Malley had denied 57 clemency requests after not acting on any such cases for his first few years in office, irking the state legislature. Across the country, commutations have received scrutiny in recent years — a man whose sentence was commuted by Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee later killed four police officers, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was criticized for pardoning nearly 200 people on his last day in office.

In discussing the public notices about Grant and Settles' cases, aides to O'Malley, the former tough-on-crime mayor of Baltimore, said the review process was painstaking and the governor did not approach the issue lightly.

Maryland is one of only three states that grant the governor the power to reject recommendations from parole commissions. In every other state, the complete authority rests with the commission.

The majority of the cases referred by the commission involve commuting a life sentence to a term of years, a move that enables the convict to gain release through good-time credits or parole.

jfenton@baltsun.com


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