Aides to Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. recommended yesterday that a woman who has served nearly 25 years for her role in the notorious murder of a 13-year-old Baltimore County girl be released from prison, according to administration sources.
If Ehrlich (R) agreed to grant parole to Karen Lynn Fried, 42, it would be the first time in more than eight years that a person serving a life sentence has been released from a Maryland prison for a reason other than age or infirmity. It also would mark a clear end to the policies of former governor Parris N. Glendening (D), who refused to grant parole to all but a handful of lifers, insisting that "life in prison means life in prison."
During a meeting yesterday afternoon, Ehrlich did not reach a decision on whether to release Fried, who was 17 at the time of the killing, or three other inmates whose attorneys lobbied the governor's office to review their cases.
Still, Fried's attorneys and other inmate advocates hailed Ehrlich for at least considering granting parole to lifers who have received favorable recommendations from the Maryland Parole Commission, rather than rejecting them out of hand.
"This is very good news," said Del. Salima Siler Marriott (D-Baltimore), a leader in the fight to win release for eligible inmates. "People who are 70 years old died in the Division of Corrections because of Glendening. . . .
"Bob Ehrlich has taken a policy of looking at these cases on their merits, rather than establishing a blanket policy of denying parole. That's an extraordinarily good thing, and I congratulate them for doing this," she said.
Ehrlich, Maryland's first Republican governor in more than 30 years, replaced Glendening in the governor's mansion in January. At the time, he promised to discard two policies enacted by Glendening: blanket rejection of parole for inmates serving life sentences and a moratorium on executions.
"This governor believes that each case, whether capital punishment, a request for probation or parole or a pardon, should be evaluated fully and fairly on its own merits," said Ehrlich's chief legal counsel, Jervis Finney.
Ehrlich lifted the death penalty moratorium almost immediately, though the first death warrant was quickly stayed by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Parole for lifers has taken longer, in part because Ehrlich was preoccupied with the annual meeting of the General Assembly, which ended Monday. But a decision has also been delayed because of disagreement among Ehrlich's closest advisers about the moral propriety and political wisdom of approving parole for someone sentenced to life in prison, according to administration officials and others close to the process.
"As you might imagine, this is a situation where, unless some evidence comes up to show that the person had nothing to do with the crime, governors are very reluctant to do this," said Thomas Fortune Fay, a Washington lawyer who recently agreed to represent Fried without pay. "It's like going around with a live hand grenade in your hip pocket. Politically, it's probably more dangerous than that."
Fried has admitted her role in the murder of Toni Jordan, 13, who was discovered in a suburban Baltimore parking lot in March 1978 with 19 stab wounds and her throat slit ear to ear.
Jordan was Fried's best friend at the time. The two girls were heavily involved with drugs and "basically partied together a lot," accepting drugs and rides from a 16-year-old, Neil Cohen, said Dan Gaskill, a lawyer who works with Fay and has done extensive research on the case.
According to Gaskill, Cohen began threatening Jordan's life after she cheated on her boyfriend, who was Cohen's best friend. Cohen persuaded Fried to let him hide in the trunk of her car as she picked up Jordan. Fried told Jordan where Cohen was hiding, and the two girls released him from the trunk. The trio then set off together to smoke marijuana and PCP.
At some point, Jordan and Cohen began arguing about "who had slept with who," and Cohen began "punching" Jordan -- or so Fried thought, Gaskill said.
But then "I saw the blood, and I really lost it," Fried wrote in a recent letter to Gaskill.
After Jordan's body was found, Fried went to police but at first lied to them, saying she had left her friend with some youths at a shopping mall. She later broke down in tears and confessed that Cohen had killed Jordan in her presence.
After his arrest, Cohen also confessed and led police to the murder weapon. In separate trials, he and Fried were sentenced to life in prison.
Gaskill said parole records show Fried has been a model prisoner, earning a GED and learning to train dogs to assist the disabled.
Fried also has won numerous recommendations for release from the Maryland Parole Commission but was blocked first by changes in parole policy and then by Glendening, who rejected her request for release as recently as Dec. 30, Gaskill said.
"Frankly, I think if Karen had gotten a good lawyer and come forward with what happened immediately, I doubt very much she would have been charged with the thing," Fay said.