Anyone following the Troy Davis case to its brutal conclusion in Georgia would have noticed — and wondered about — the absence of the governor in that matter. Why weren't Mr. Davis' supporters appealing to Gov. Nathan Deal for mercy as the convicted killer's appeals ran out and questions lingered about this guilt?
The answer: In Georgia, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles has the exclusive authority to grant clemency to death row inmates. By law, the governor can't intervene. Georgia governors lost the power to do so decades ago, after one of them was caught selling pardons. Such reforms took place in other states as progressive lawmakers recognized the poisonous potential of politics mixing with criminal justice and sought to limit it.
In Maryland, the governor still has the power to invoke mercy or to act to avoid injustice. The governor can commute any sentence, including a death sentence, and he can reject recommendations from the Maryland Parole Commission.
The General Assembly did something about the latter this year because of the way the state's two most recent Democratic governors, Parris Glendening and Martin O'Malley, politicized the parole process. Mr. Glendening denied all parole to inmates serving life sentences, including those who had been given the possibility of parole by the judges who sent them to prison decades ago. (In an interview with me this year, Mr. Glendening admitted that his policy had been wrong and politically motivated.) Mr. O'Malley has continued that policy.
But now, the General Assembly says, unless the Maryland governor rejects a recommendation for parole within 180 days, it becomes effective automatically. That reform comes to life Saturday.
No one has his eye trained on that approaching date more than Mark Farley Grant.
Mr. Grant has been in a Maryland prison since 1984 for a Baltimore murder; he was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole when he was 15. The Maryland Parole Commission recommended him for release last spring; he's still in prison inHagerstown.
Mr. O'Malley appears to have willfully neglected not only Mr. Grant's parole recommendation but a credible claim of innocence made through a student-faculty group at the University of Maryland School of Law to the governor's office in 2008. The report on the case, which included recanted prosecution testimony and information implicating another suspect, was accompanied by a request for clemency. Mr. O'Malley's office at first said Mr. Grant's case was under review, but no action was ever taken; my requests for further comment on the matter were not answered.
So Mr. Grant is holding out for the new law that takes effect this week. He'll spend another six months in prison, and hopefully Martin O'Malley will continue to ignore him and take no action, just as he has ignored him and taken no action for three years.
"I refuse to lose my mind," Mr. Grant wrote me from prison last week. "I have lost a lot — my freedom and my family members — but I'm going to hang on to my mind. I will not lose my mind."
In a recent column about Cy Avara, the affable proprietor of hair academies, one on West Pratt Street and one in Dundalk, I mentioned Nate Smith, a barber and a longtime teacher in Mr. Avara's shop in West Baltimore. I referred to Mr. Smith as having been "neglected" as a boy growing up on the west side and taken under Mr. Avara's wing.
That was not the case. Mr. Smith says he was never neglected; he came to Mr. Avara's attention when a drunken driver crashed a car through the windows of the barber school and Mr. Smith helped sweep up the glass. Mr. Avara befriended him and later put Mr. Smith through barber school. I regret the error and the bad feelings it caused. I also regret not having gone to Mr. Smith for a trim before last Friday; he gives one fine haircut.
One more follow-up: An excellent public servant, Glennor Shirley, Maryland's prison librarian, retires in four days. She has been exposing inmates to books since the 1980s. "Working as a prison librarian," she says, "taught me a lot about the underclass and at the same time made me realize the humanity in people who society has been willing to dismiss."