Rural editor who railed against Trump retires

Twelve years after the Civil War, a Union Army veteran named James Hayden established a newspaper for Garrett County, and called it The Republican in honor of Abraham Lincoln. One hundred and forty years later, the Lincoln kind of Republican is long gone, and those who live in the Western Maryland county where Hayden's newspaper is still published each Thursday voted overwhelmingly to make Donald J. Trump the commander in chief.

Donald W. Sincell, the longtime editor of The Republican, who opposed Trump's election in November, is still shocked by Trump's 4-1 margin in Garrett County. The Republican, published in Oakland, does not have a history of directly endorsing political candidates. But it was clear from editorials in 2016 that Sincell did not think a Trump presidency would be good for the country. The Republican refrained from endorsing Hillary Clinton, but in words and in cartoons, it railed against Trump.

If you were not a regular reader of The Republican, and just picked up a copy while vacationing at Deep Creek Lake, you might have found that remarkable, even courageous.

"I get criticism all the time because I tend to take a more liberal stance on a lot of issues," says Sincell. "People will write or they'll call and say, 'You need to change the name of that paper to The Democrat.' And my response has always been that I didn't name the paper, first of all. And, second of all, as the editor, as an individual human being, I consider things for their fairness, for their logic, for what seems right, and I don't care if it comes from a Republican or a Democrat."

When I contacted Sincell to talk about life in Garrett in the time of Trump, I did not expect him to report the following news: The Republican has just been sold to a West Virginia media company, a publisher of rural weeklies. Sincell, 65, retires this Friday after more than 40 years at the editor's desk, ending a long run for one of Maryland's last family-owned weeklies.

Don Sincell's great-grandfather bought The Republican from Hayden in 1890. His grandfather, great-uncle and father ran the paper for many years. Don Sincell became editor in the 1970s. There have only been four editors in the 140-year history of the newspaper.

The decision to sell to NCWV Media was a tough one, Sincell says. But he says the new owner is better positioned to take The Republican across the digital divide.

You can hear my conversation with Don Sincell on the "Roughly Speaking" podcast, episode 265, embedded below.

Unfinished business

In Sunday's column, I understated the potential role of Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby in resolving Mark Farley Grant's claim of a wrongful conviction and any hope he might have of compensation for the 28 years he spent in prison. I overlooked a change in state law that could be a factor in Grant's case.

Former Gov. Martin O'Malley commuted Grant's life sentence in 2012, but without ever addressing a disturbing report from the University of Maryland School of Law that found that Grant did not commit the 1983 murder of a West Baltimore teenager named Michael Gough. Grant was 14 at the time of his arrest in the fatal shooting; he was 15 at the time of his sentencing.

Grant, now 49, has not been declared innocent in any official way. He has neither been pardoned of his crime nor compensated for his nearly three decades of imprisonment.

I learned Sunday afternoon that, during its 2017 session, the General Assembly changed the law on wrongful convictions and compensation. The law, which takes effect Oct. 1, will allow someone with a wrongful-conviction claim to ask that a state's attorney review new, presumably exculpatory evidence. Such requests go to the state's attorney of the jurisdiction where the conviction was imposed. In Grant's case, that means Marilyn Mosby of Baltimore. If she certifies that the conviction was in error, then Grant becomes eligible for a grant from the state Board of Public Works.

Now, only a gubernatorial pardon can make Grant eligible for compensation. The new law will give him a second avenue.

Renee McDonald Hutchins is the law school professor who investigated Grant's claim of innocence. Asked if she had approached Mosby's office, she said "We continue to pursue viable avenues of relief for Mark and remain hopeful that the State's Attorney's Office will work with us to correct the injustice of Mark's conviction."

Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for Mosby's office, confirmed that the case is under review.

One other point: Gov. Larry Hogan could chose to take up this unfinished business of the O'Malley administration at any time. Hogan would not have to wait for Grant to secure certification of wrongful conviction from Mosby or a writ of actual innocence from a Circuit Court judge. The governor could review the case on his own.

drodricks@baltsun.com

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