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O'Malley needs to tend to unfinished business

Pardon and compensation for man's wrongful conviction should be in order

Dan Rodricks

6:00 AM EDT, July 17, 2014

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That's real nice about Martin O'Malley raising close to $800,000 from various supporters who apparently think he could go from Maryland governor to president of the United States some day, maybe even in 2016 if Hillary Clinton decides to become a Re/Max agent.

With Maryland in his rear-view mirror, O'Malley continues to travel about the country, helping various Democratic incumbents who face battles in the upcoming midterm elections. That's So'Malley — selfless and always looking out for those who struggle.

Maybe he could throw a little love Mark Farley Grant's way.

Grant probably takes up one-hundredth of 1 percent of O'Malley's conscience — and I'm being generous in that estimate — so I'll provide a brief reminder of who Grant was and is, and how our supposedly progressive governor prolonged an injustice that still begs for closure and compensation.

Grant was 14 years old when he was arrested for the fatal shooting of another teenager, Michael Gough, on a West Baltimore street one night in January 1983. Grant was 15 when he was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison. The short-statured teenager always claimed innocence and, several years after his trial and appeals, he sought help from professors at the University of Maryland School of Law.

They took up Grant's case 10 years ago and devoted about four years to researching it, concluding in 2008 that he was innocent of the crime.

"Mark Grant did not kill Michael Gough," the law school concluded in its report to the governor. "There is now no question about the fact."

The investigation found that the chief witness testified falsely at trial because relatives of the actual killer held a gun to his head and vowed to kill him and his family unless he identified Grant as the gunman.

Another teenager confirmed seeing Grant in a nearby alley at the moment Gough was shot. The law school investigation discovered that the trial jury never heard that testimony.

The professors and students also found that Grant's co-defendant was originally suspected to be the killer. However, he made a deal with the Baltimore state's attorney's office, pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in return for a 10-year prison sentence and testified against Grant. The law school investigation found that the co-defendant had failed a polygraph test before trial, a fact never revealed to Grant's attorney.

The prosecutor in the case acknowledged the failure to inform the defense of the failed polygraph in an affidavit in 2007. He also said he never would have prosecuted Grant had he known that the key witness had been threatened.

All of this information went to O'Malley and his staff in 2008.

And nothing happened for four more years.

O'Malley had a no-parole-for-lifers policy, and that policy stood even for a man who had been jailed as a juvenile and who had a credible claim of innocence backed by four years of research by the law school that is the governor's alma mater.

The Maryland Parole Commission approved Grant's release during O'Malley's tenure, but ours is one of only three states whose governors can veto a prisoner's release.

So it wasn't until March 2012 that O'Malley commuted Grant's sentence — the first time the governor had used that power since he took office in 2007.

Of course, a commutation is not a pardon. The governor did not utter a word about Grant's claim of innocence, and there's no evidence that O'Malley, who had the authority to do so, ever ordered an independent investigation of the case. (If you're running for president, maybe you don't make a lifer's release a priority — even if you have reason to believe the wrong man has been locked up for 28 years.)

So while Grant was happy to finally get out of prison at the age of 42, he did so under a cloud.

But he's doing fine, as far as I can tell. He is still employed as a meat cutter at Seven Mile Market in Pikesville, said to be the largest kosher supermarket in the country, but he no longer takes the bus there. Grant managed to save enough money to buy a used Nissan Altima. He left his rented room on North Avenue to move in with his girlfriend in a house in Northwest Baltimore.

Grant maintains a positive attitude while adjusting to life in free society.

But there's still unfinished business — the pardon O'Malley could grant Grant and the compensation Grant deserves for those 28 wasted years. Certainly, with either his gubernatorial authority or his fundraising prowess, O'Malley could come up with fair compensation.

In 1994, the state Board of Public Works compensated a man for a wrongful conviction, and the package worked out to about $33,000 for each year the man had served. In Grant's case, that would come to about $925,000 — adjusting for inflation, let's call it $1 million.

That seems about right to me. The governor needs to settle while he still can.

drodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.