When Baltimore jail officials told Ramchandra Malekar to pack his belongings yesterday morning, he was sure the Immigration and Naturalization Service was about to deport him to his native India, he recalled later.
The other prisoners told him not to worry, he said, since acting Gov. Blair Lee III had pardoned him for his crime of manslaughter the day before, he said, but when he was handcuffed and taken to a lockup in the immigration office at the federal courthouse he was still sure he was being departed. Malekar had remained in jail after being pardoned because his visa has expired.
Then, at noon, an immigration officer escorted Malekar, carrying his peronal effects in a rumpled down paper bag, into an office.
"As soon as I saw my attorney, I knew everything was all right," Malekar said.
His attorney, Marvin M. Polikooff, had just worked out an agreement with Wallace R. Gray, the immigration district director, for Malekar to be released from jail on a personal recognitizance bond.
Fifteen minutes later, Malekar wiped tears from his cheeks as he walked out of the courthouse. He was free for the first time since he as imprisoned in 1974 for the strangulation slaying of his former employer, Lalita Khambadkone, whose husband had brough him from India to their Potomac home as a servant a year earlier.
"It's a miracle," Malekar said. "I really believe in God. Still, I'm telling God, please give you (Polikoff) more strength to continue this."
Malekar faces several more hurdles before he can legally remain in the United States as a free man.
Technically, the pardon by acting Gov. Lee "removed the manslaughter charge from the records," said Gray. But Malekar is still on "overstay," an alien who does not have the proper permits to stay in America, he added.
Malekar will appear in U.S. District Court today seeking an extension of the 10-day temporary restraining order that prevents the Immigration Service from deporting him.
Polikoff said Malekar and his American fiance, Rosie Wolff of Hagerstown, Md., are planning to be married before the court hearing. Marrying a U.S. citizen would make him eligible for foreign national status, which would protect him from deportation.
"Then we have to petition immigration to change his status and the princess and the prince can fade into the sunlight or wherever they go to," said Polikoff.
Gray said only an immigration judge can decide whether Malekar can legally stay in America.
"We'll make every attempt to get a hearing soon," Gray said. "As long as the (court) stay isin effect we will not attempt to move him."