Maryland Gov. Hogan commutes life sentence of 'model inmate' from Baltimore who's served 47 years in killing

Gov. Larry Hogan’s office said Wednesday the governor has commuted the life sentence of Calvin Ash, a 68-year-old Baltimore man who has spent nearly his entire adult life behind bars despite multiple recommendations from the parole commission for his release.

A spokesman for Hogan said the governor decided this week to accept an 8-0 vote of the parole commission that Ash be freed after serving 47 years for fatally shooting his wife’s boyfriend in the 1970s, when Ash was 21 years old.

Hogan also commuted sentences this week of two other inmates, but did not release their names.

Ash had committed no infractions for 30 years behind bars, officials say.

“He’s been a model inmate,” said Mike Ricci, a spokesman for the Republican governor.

Hogan’s actions mean the governor has now commuted the sentences of 15 prisoners since he took office in 2015 — including at least five inmates serving life sentences. The previous governor, Democrat Martin O’Malley, released three prisoners through commutation during his eight years in office.

Julian Ash, 58, of Oklahoma, a retired Army sergeant, is Calvin Ash’s brother and the last surviving relative from their immediate family. He said he was “elated” by the news.

“I’m looking forward to getting him home,” he said. “I’m definitely happy.”

Julian Ash hasn’t seen his brother as a free man since he was 12. He travels to Maryland to visit him in prison in Hagerstown, and said he’s going to work on lining up a job for his brother.

“Even before he went in, he was never somebody to get in trouble,” Ash said. “This was just a one-time incident.”

Ash has been imprisoned since he killed the boyfriend of his estranged wife on May 2, 1972. On that day, Ash — who was an employee of Union Memorial Hospital — shot and killed Thomas Robinson, 24, inside a rowhouse in the 1800 block of N. Rosedale St. in West Baltimore.

Ash confessed to police during questioning, saying: “We were still seeing one another, but then she got on with someone else.”

He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

David Blumberg, chairman of the state’s parole commission, said that for more than a decade, the panel has repeatedly recommended that Ash be freed.

“I’m grateful the governor agreed to commute his term,” Blumberg said. “I’m looking forward to an uneventful re-entry. We do not feel he is a risk to public safety. He made good use of his time while he was incarcerated.”

Since the murder, Ash has gained a reputation within the prison system as a reformed man, Blumberg said.

Blumberg said he and another commissioner will travel to Hagerstown to give Ash the governor’s order. He should be released by the fall, Blumberg said.

“The amount of time he served was certainly a consideration and his current age,” Blumberg said. “When you reach the age of 50 and over, your chances for criminality are greatly reduced.”

He said the commission will help Ash transition to live outside prison, including proposing plans to help with housing and employment.

Ash’s case has been in the news for years. In 2004, the Maryland Parole Commission approved his release. But in 2006, O’Malley rejected the recommendation without comment. In 2009, the commission again voted 5-2 to commute Ash’s sentence, but that, too, was rejected.

Nevertheless, Ash’s brother, Carrington, continued to press for his release — writing multiple letters to state officials seeking a commutation. Unfortunately, Blumberg said, Carrington Ash, “who has been in his corner for a long, long time” died in 2017 and won’t get to see his brother released.

Julian Ash took up the cause of pressing the government on his brother’s behalf. He said he expects Calvin to stay at their late mother’s house in Wilson Park when he’s released.

Blumberg said state officials were unable to locate any of Robinson’s relatives.

Maryland governors over time have adopted different stances on their power to commute sentences.

In the mid-1990s, Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening, issued a so-called “life means life" edict — giving out zero commutations — as he attempted to negotiate an end to the death penalty in the state. Glendening has since disavowed that approach.

Republican Gov. Robert Ehlirch, who served between 2003 and 2007, considered parole on a case-by-case basis. He commuted 18 sentences, including those of five lifers.

O'Malley fought to repeal the death penalty and he commuted the sentences of Maryland’s four remaining death-row inmates to life without parole. But when it came to releasing prisoners sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, he took a hard line. He granted clemency to three in 2012, but approved no non-medical paroles.

Hogan has presided over a decline in Maryland’s prison population. Maryland’s inmate census has fallen below 18,000 for the first time in nearly three decades.

According to a report released Wednesday by the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based nonprofit that tracks criminal justice issues, 17,815 people were held in Maryland’s state prisons at the end of last year. That amounts to a prison incarceration rate of 295 per 100,000 residents — a 1.7% drop from the rate in 2017. Over the past decade, the rate has fallen by nearly 29%.

The 2016 Justice Reinvestment Act is often credited for helping to reduce Maryland’s prison population. The landmark legislation sought to divert nonviolent offenders from prison into drug treatment and other programs and included changes to mandatory minimum drug penalties. It went into effect in October 2017.

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