Bremer got no mental health help

The Baltimore Sun

When Arthur Bremer walks out of a Maryland prison in a few months after 35 years behind bars, the would-be assassin will leave without having received psychological or mental health treatment that could have helped him adjust to life on the outside, the state's Parole Commission chairman said yesterday.

Bremer, who shot Democratic presidential candidate George C. Wallace in Laurel in 1972, has refused to participate in mental health treatment programs while incarcerated, said David R. Blumberg, chairman of the commission, adding that it could be made a condition of Bremer's release that he see a counselor regularly and that he could be returned to prison if he didn't comply.

At his trial, Bremer unsuccessfully pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

"I don't think he is the same person he was in 1972, but we'd like to find out more about who he is today," Blumberg said. "To the extent he hasn't allowed us to do that, it's disappointing."

Bremer revealed a troubled history in a 133-page journal that was read aloud at his trial. In the journal, he said he had stalked President Richard M. Nixon and wanted to make a "statement of my manhood for the world to see."

When the state Parole Commission turned down his release request in 1996, he wrote an angry letter deriding Wallace as a "segregationist dinosaur."

Bremer's younger brother Roger Bremer said this week that authorities had told him Arthur Bremer "doesn't talk and won't say what's on his mind."

Blumberg said a mental health provider would have to evaluate Bremer to determine whether he needs psychological counseling.

"We don't know if it's an issue or not because he hasn't let anybody get close enough to determine what his needs are," Blumberg said.

Bremer, 57, has had an exemplary record in the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, earning enough credits though work and general good behavior to warrant early release, officials said.

Bremer was sentenced to 53 years in prison for shooting Wallace, then the governor of Alabama, and three others during a political rally at a shopping mall. The shooting paralyzed Wallace from the waist down and derailed his campaign. He went on to serve two more gubernatorial terms.

Though Bremer will be required to report to a parole agent, hold a steady job and steer clear of controlled substances and weapons, his discharge has prompted questions about whether he has been adequately rehabilitated and, more broadly, about his psychological well-being after he rejected mental health care.

A source with specific knowledge of Bremer's case said the inmate has been housed, at his own request, at a mental health unit at the prison. The source, who asked not to be identified because Bremer's medical care is private, said Bremer that felt safer there but that the placement did not reflect any psychological condition. The source said Bremer has suffered from depression but has never been medicated.

Asked whether he considers Bremer potentially dangerous, Blumberg said, "You look at his prison behavior, and you can take some solace in that. He's been able to follow institutional rules, and he's been a model prisoner. On the other hand, the last time he was in a position to make choices, he made a very, very bad choice."

Arthur A. Marshall Jr., who as Prince George's County state's attorney prosecuted Bremer in 1972, said yesterday that Bremer has served "pretty solid time" and that he was not surprised to learn of his imminent release. Marshall also said that Bremer needed counseling 35 years ago.

"His whole defense was a psychiatric defense," said Marshall, now on the board of review for Patuxent Institution, a maximum-security facility that houses inmates with more serious mental health problems. "He needed it then. I don't think many people are cured after 35 years in jail."

Richard B. Rosenblatt, assistant secretary for treatment services for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Bremer would have been housed at Patuxent if he had needed rigorous psychological counseling.

"The person he spoke to the most in Hagerstown was a psychology associate," Rosenblatt said. "They had a very good relationship."

Rosenblatt said the prison system is not set up to treat certain behavioral problems: "There's no program for it. In other words, there is no behavioral modification for the 75 percent of the [prison] population who have personality disorders. To do that in a prison environment requires a huge infusion of resources that is not currently available."

Blumberg said Secret Service agents preparing for Bremer's release recently asked for a psychological evaluation of Bremer by mental health professionals but that Bremer refused and can't be forced to undergo one.

The last time Bremer underwent a psychological review was in 1996, when he agreed to one after requesting early parole. He was denied.

Rosenblatt said Bremer's decision not to cooperate with the Secret Service request might be reasonable. "It may either be that he refuses or that he doesn't have a treatable diagnosis," he said.

As Maryland officials grapple with the details of Bremer's release - which is expected in November, Blumberg said - Alabama Attorney General Troy King said yesterday that he would try to block the release.

King spokesman Chris Bence said the attorney general thinks that Bremer should remain in prison and that his office is trying to determine whether it could postpone his freedom, the Associated Press reported.

"This is just another of many, many instances where someone's acts were so heinous and horrific that any early release makes a mockery of the law," Bence said in an interview.

Andrew Levy, a trial lawyer and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, said offenders with varying degrees of mental illness are released from the prison system every day. Bremer's crime 35 years ago does not provide a basis for civil commitment, he said.

"There is very little quality mental health treatment available in the corrections system," Levy said. "In the competition for scarce resources, it often loses out."

Bremer's attorney during the 1972 trial, Benjamin Lipsitz of Baltimore, said yesterday that he thinks Bremer will be on good behavior once freed.

"I'm confident he won't do it again; that's my feeling," said Lipsitz, 88. "I can't specify a reason any more than a psychiatrist. If the authorities in Maryland decide to let him out, I don't think he's a greater risk than anybody else."

Authorities are trying to find "transitional housing," such as a shelter or halfway house, for Bremer in a rural area of Maryland because family members in other states are not prepared to take him in, Blumberg said.

"I think that it would make everyone more comfortable to get him out of the Baltimore-Washington and Annapolis areas, where there are more elected officials," Blumberg said of Bremer, who will be required to avoid political candidates and events.

"I think he's looking for relative quiet and anonymity."

Roger Bremer, who lives in Milwaukee, said Secret Service agents called him in the spring about taking in his brother. He said he had had little contact with Arthur Bremer and was not prepared to do so.

Blumberg noted that the world has changed drastically since Bremer entered prison in 1972.

"I would feel better if he would allow someone to come and see and evaluate him, and allow him to get better insight into himself," Blumberg said. "I think he would be better served."

greg.garland@baltsun.com jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Liz F. Kay contributed to this article.

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