- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday commuted the sentences of three inmates, including Mary Washington Brown, 46, a Baltimore woman who has spent 30 years in prison for a murder committed when she was 15 years old.

The Republican governor said the commutations of Brown, Walter Henry Arvinger and Clifford Wayne Sewell’s sentences “are a reflection of my view that Maryland’s criminal justice system must be tough but fair.”

Brown was convicted of the 1974 murder of Charlotte Ida Lessem, who was stabbed during a robbery by Brown and a co-defendant at a bus station in Baltimore.

The governor’s office said she has been an exemplary inmate who earned her high school equivalency degree in 1975, got an associate’s degree from the Community College of Baltimore and needs just 15 more credits for a bachelor’s degree in human resources from Morgan State University.

Brown will be required to complete 12 months of work release before being eligible for parole.

“The death of Charlotte Ida Lessem was a horrific crime perpetrated against her, and against society as a whole,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “Mary Brown’s life experience, her willingness to share that experience with other troubled individuals and her continued rehabilitation will ensure that Ms. Lessem’s death, while senseless, is one that will be remembered for the hope it restored in the life-changing power each individual possesses regardless of his or her circumstances in life.”

Arvinger, 55, was sentenced to life in prison Nov. 4, 1968, for the murder of James R. Brown, who was killed with a baseball bat during a robbery. Arvinger, 19 at the time, served more time in prison than his co-defendants even though he did not strike the victim with the bat.

He is expected to be released soon from prison.

Arvinger was assisted in his quest for a commutation by Michael Millemann’s class at the University of Maryland School of Law.

“We are absolutely delighted with what the governor has done,” Mr. Millemann said yesterday.

He said his class got involved after he got a letter 18 months ago from Arvinger asking for help.

After reading the transcript of a trial that lasted only about half a day, “I concluded he never should have been convicted. He was, in fact, innocent,” Mr. Millemann said.

When Sewell was convicted in 1992 of daytime housebreaking, he received a 25-year prison sentence as a “three-time loser” because it was his third conviction for a violent crime. Two years later, daytime housebreaking was changed to a nonviolent offense, but the change did not help Sewell because it was not made retroactive by the legislature.

Mr. Ehrlich commuted the sentence to 20 years, allowing the Maryland Parole Commission to develop a plan to release him.

Mr. Ehrlich also pardoned four individuals who had completed their sentences:

• Eric Augustus Banks, 48, who was convicted of robbery in 1976 and possession of heroin in 1985.

• Joseph Lee Hardison Jr., 48, convicted of assault in 1987.

• Jerry Anthony Smith, 49, convicted of possession of marijuana and possession of cocaine in 1981.

• Larry Allen Thomas, 56, convicted of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in 1972.

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