While Gov. William Donald Schaefer views Juanita Stinson as a classic battered woman, some folks out in Garrett County call her a murderer who shot her boyfriend in his bed, chopped him up with an ax and buried him on a neighbor's property.
Stinson, who has served only nine months of an eight-year sentence for killing Charles Stinson, her former husband and longtime boyfriend, is one of eight women who have been granted clemency by Schaefer.
The women could be freed as early as today.
The women are victims of what experts call battered women's syndrome and each either killed or assaulted a man who was abusing her. Under Maryland law, the women were prohibited from raising the syndrome as a defense at their trials.
While Schaefer's decision to grant clemency has elated advocates for battered women, it has annoyed some prosecutors and upset relatives of the men who were killed or assaulted.
"I can't believe the governor would even consider doing something like this," said William Ferry, an investigator in the Garrett County state's attorney's office, which prosecuted Stinson. "[Charles Stinson] probably wasn't the best fellow in the world, but she's not such a nice person, either."
Schaefer ordered that a ninth woman have her parole hearing moved up one year, to August 1991.
The women are serving from three years to life on convictions ranging from battery to first-degree murder.
Davis Ruark, the Wicomico County state's attorney, said he is disappointed that Schaefer made his clemency decisions without consulting him or other prosecutors involved in the cases.
Two of the women granted clemency are from Wicomico, including Virginia Jula Johnson, 27, who pleaded guilty to stabbing her boyfriend, John T. Cheavers, with a steak knife after he caught her trying to pour sugar into the gas tank of his car.
"I don't argue with the fact the governor had the power to do what he did," Ruark said. "We would just like to have been heard from."
Also granted clemency was Mytokia Friend, a former Baltimore police officer who was sentenced in 1987 to 15 years in prison for fatally shooting her 22-year-old husband, Tyree Friend, while he was lying in bed.
"I can't change the governor's decision, but I don't like it," said Eldridge Friend, the victim's father. "I do know the woman is living a lie and the governor bought it and the system bought it."
Schaefer visited five women at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup last month to hear their histories. Schaefer said he was a little reluctant to meet the women at first because "when a person commits murder, to me, it's murder." However, after talking with the women, he became convinced they "were pushed absolutely to the brink before they finally broke and committed murder."
"In some instances, they would've been dead if they didn't do what they did," Schaefer said.
Asked if the women should have gone to prison in the first place, Schaefer said, "I don't think I can answer that yet . . . that will be up to the judge. But, if I were the judge, I'd weigh all the evidence, particularly if I was allowed to review the evidence as to how these women were treated. And it wasn't a matter of one time. It was a continual, continual, continual beating that these women suffered."
Schaefer said the women were reluctant to leave their abusers for various reasons, including low self-esteem, love and fear.
"We are thrilled at what he has done on behalf of the eight women," said Carolyn Jacobs, of the domestic violence task force of the Public Justice Center Inc., a Baltimore-based volunteer legal-advocacy group.
Advocates say they will continue to work for the release of more than a dozen other imprisoned women who suffered from the syndrome but who were passed over by Schaefer.
Schaefer also unveiled "key" amendments to a pair of bills pending in the General Assembly that would allow defendants to introduce evidence of repeated physical or psychological abuse at their trials.
"Any jury would've been moved by what they said," he said, referring to the women's stories of abuse at the hands of their boyfriends and husbands.