Commutation scandal


Advocates of women suffering from "battered woman syndrome" have long argued that their clients get an unfair shake in court when they lash out against their abusers, because evidence critical to their defense is routinely inadmissible.

Governor Schaefer, having visited a group of such women in Jessup, was convinced and, as we have noted several times in this space, was right to support legislation to allow evidence of repeated abuse and testimony about "battered woman syndrome" to be admitted in court. Now it appears that bureaucratic bumbling may have cast a political pall over that effort.

A story in Sunday's Sun reported that at least three of the eight murder sentences the governor commuted last month were based on bogus claims and reports. And no one -- from advocates in the House of Ruth to Bishop Robinson, head of corrections and public safety, seems to have bothered to check the women's accounts against readily available legal records. As a result one woman, now free, appears to have actually hired a hit man to kill her husband so she could collect on his life insurance policy; another had never been abused before the night she murdered her husband. A third woman was not being beaten at the time she killed her boyfriend, as she had claimed, and once out on bail, threatened to kill another person.

This is a scandal, no doubt. But it clearly does not call into question the validity of the pending legislation. The issue is the process by which these cases were reviewed and prepared. That the governor could have received recommendations to free these women, that their case histories could have passed the scrutiny of administration officials, the chairman of parole commission, the secretary of public safety and correction services without the facts ever being detected is simply appalling.

The mix-up demands a review and revamping of procedures, as well as personnel. But in the wake of this scandal, killing a proposal to allow evidence of battering in court would merely add to the injustices that already have been done.

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