Supporters of Karen Lynn Fried praised Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for shortening the convicted murderer's life sentence yesterday and giving her a chance at parole, calling his move a courageous step for justice.
But the family of the 13-year-old Baltimore County girl prosecutors say Fried helped kill said they were distraught that Ehrlich went through with his plan to commute Fried's sentence. They said they will try to persuade the parole board to keep Fried, 42, in prison as long as possible.
"We really don't understand how this happened," said Elaine Fortman, the sister-in-law of Toni L. Jordan, who was murdered on a Carney parking lot in March 1978. "We would really appreciate knowing what the governor has looked at [to make his decision]. Maybe if we knew what he knew, we wouldn't feel the way we do."
Many involved in the justice system said they were happy that Ehrlich has made a clear break from former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's "life means life" policy, which denied parole to all inmates serving life sentences.
"I think it's a positive step," said Stephen Z. Meehan, principal counsel of the Prisoner Rights Information System of Maryland. "I think that it's a very measured step. I think it will offer people coming into the system an incentive to toe the line and really become model prisoners."
Although Ehrlich had not kept secret his intent to pardon or commute the sentences of a number of inmates, Fortman said her family was shocked when they learned about the governor's plans to reduce Fried's sentence.
The Maryland Parole Commission said its records indicate it contacted Jordan's mother in recent months. But Fortman said nobody in the family knew of the governor's plans until last week.
Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Steve Bailey said his office plans to work with the Parole Commission so that victims' families are spared similar confusion in future cases.
Fried was 17 years old when she was convicted of helping another Baltimore County teen, Neil Cohen, murder Jordan.
Prosecutors say she lured Jordan, a friend, into a car where Cohen was hiding and watched as Cohen stabbed the younger girl 22 times, then slit her throat.
Prosecutors say Fried drove over Jordan's body, although the inmate's supporters say trial testimony showed that did not happen.
Baltimore County prosecutors said Fried is just as responsible for the murder as Cohen. In 1978, a jury agreed, convicting Fried of murder and conspiracy. Cohen was also convicted and is serving a life sentence.
But Fried and her numerous supporters -- including rabbis, justice reform advocates and lawyers -- say she never thought Cohen would follow through with his plan to kill Jordan.
"I spoke with her case manager -- everybody who dealt with her in prison had only nice things to say," said Rabbi Herzel Kranz. "She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was involved with something that was horrendous, and she paid the price."
Her supporters say she has more than done her time, and point to a 1988 letter that Fried's trial judge, then retired, wrote supporting her release.
"I think Karen Fried has achieved the maximum rehabilitation and has reached the point where she should be paroled," Judge John E. Raine Jr. wrote.
During the Glendening administration, the parole board recommended her release, but the governor rejected that recommendation.
One supporter, a writer named Charles S. Stein, has created a Web site dedicated to his research into her case, and to questions about what he portrays as a misleading prosecution. Stein has also launched an Internet petition seeking parole or a pardon for Fried. It appears about 150 people have signed it.
In a news release, the governor listed reasons for his decision to commute Fried's sentence.
She "has been an exemplary inmate," the release said, receiving her high school equivalency diploma, and participating in various programs, including Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous and the Pilot Dog Program, in which she trained dogs for visually impaired people.
The governor's action means that the Parole Commission, the body that had suggested freeing Fried, now has authority over whether Fried will be released on parole.
"He is correcting a wrong," Kranz said of the governor.