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Clinic's 1st Case Helps Free Man Serving Life

Arvinger testified that he rounded a corner and saw one of the four, George Allen Jr., strike Brown once with a stick or bat. Gillis, too, testified that Allen delivered the blows that killed Brown.

Gillis said two of the others, and not Arvinger, went through Brown's pockets.

Walter Arvinger, 55, in his West Baltimore home, had his life sentence commuted by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

Although the evidence was that Arvinger did not wield the bat and did not help plan the crime, prosecutors argued that he nonetheless was guilty of murder because he was part of the group and because, they suggested, Arvinger received a few coins when Brown's pocket change was divvied up.

Court records show that Arvinger had no criminal record and that, according to a probation officer's 1969 report, the offense "appears completely out of character." Medical evaluations have since shown Arvinger's mental capacity to be significantly diminished.

The judge found him guilty of murder and said Arvinger might have served as a lookout in the crime.

The Maryland Parole Commission initially recommended that Arvinger be granted clemency in 1998. The panel noted that he was the only defendant in the slaying who remained in prison. Even Allen, who wielded the bat, was released after his sentence was commuted by then-Gov. Marvin Mandel (D).

Ehrlich commuted Arvinger's sentence last month, and Arvinger was released three days later. In commuting the sentence, Ehrlich said his decision reflected "my view that Maryland's criminal justice system must be tough but fair."

Ehrlich did not say whether he believed that Arvinger was innocent. Jervis S. Finney, counsel to Ehrlich, said Friday that the governor followed a recommendation by the Parole Commission, which again this year endorsed clemency.

Finney said that "a credible argument was presented by attorneys that raised doubt in Governor Ehrlich's mind as to Arvinger's actual involvement in the case."

In an interview at the Western Correctional Institution before his release, Arvinger said he is innocent. He denied being part of the yoking conversation and said he came upon the assault only after it began, when he ran after the other four teenagers.

He knew that his case was before Ehrlich, but he said he was trying not to get his hopes up.

"Sometimes things just don't go your way," he said.

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