Five months after eight of her fellow inmates were freed as alleged victims of abuse by mates that they assaulted or killed, Gale Annette Hawkins -- who was among the first to argue for recognition of battered-spouse syndrome in Maryland -- was herself released from prison yesterday.
The 34-year-old Hawkins, who was sentenced to life in prison for the June 1979 stabbing death of her boyfriend, was granted parole and escorted by a prison lieutenant from the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup about 8 a.m.
She spent her first day of freedom bringing flowers and a balloon to a younger sister who is pregnant with triplets at University Medical Center and then acclimating herself to a Baltimore halfway house, where she will reside for a time as part of her parole.
"I didn't cry until I got to the front steps [of the halfway house]," Hawkins said yesterday. "I managed not to cry the whole time until I came up the steps."
From the time of her arrest on, Hawkins never wavered in her defense, insisting time and again that she stabbed Randolph Harry as a result of physical abuse.
In subsequent interviews with The Sun, the former prosecutor who handled the case acknowledged that Hawkins' behavior the night of the slaying was consistent with that of an abused spouse.
For a year and a half, Hawkins lent her story and her credibility to an effort by advocates who successfully sought to change state law regarding the recognition of battered-spouse syndrome in courtrooms and to obtain clemency for women imprisoned for killing allegedly abusive mates.
That effort, which featured Hawkins in numerous media interviews as well as a videotape prepared by advocates for national use, culminated in the February release of eight women -- but not Hawkins, who was initially denied clemency by state corrections officials.
Her release was further delayed when subsequent reports in The Sun noted that the facts surrounding three of the eight clemency cases were decidedly different from those gathered by advocates in their report to the governor.
Without Gov. William Donald Schaefer's knowledge, one of the women released in February had gleaned thousands of dollars in insurance money for killing her husband; another threatened a potential witness with a knife after being released on bond after killing her boyfriend; a third was granted clemency though a police investigation found no evidence of abuse before or during her husband's murder.
"We never heard about any of that, I can tell you," said a frustrated Hawkins, in an interview conducted after the ensuing controversy threatened to end the commutation efforts. "I feel like these people got out of here by using our issue. I feel used."
The controversy delayed the release of Hawkins and three others who were originally proposed for clemency.
One of those three, Carolyn Sue Wallace, was released from the Jessup institution on parole last month. Another woman, Joyce Danna, was denied commutation after a post-conviction appeal failed in Baltimore County court. The remaining woman, Marie Lake, is still being reviewed, according to the governor's office.
Advocates are preparing a second list of incarcerated women for consideration by the governor. However, state officials and advocates alike have acknowledged that there will be changes in the review process.
Notably, prosecutors and judges are likely to be asked for their views before submission of the report. In the earlier clemency effort, no effort was made to check the legal record for corroboration of the women's accounts, nor were judges, prosecutors or defense attorneys contacted.
For Hawkins, however, such issues seemed remote yesterday.
"I'm free," she said after her first day in Baltimore. "I'm really free."