Acting Maryland Gov. Blair Lee III yesterday pardoned Ramchandra Malekar for his crime of manslaughter, giving the Indian a far greater chance to defeat a deportation order and stay in this country to marry the Hagerstown woman he loves.
Lee said he took this extraordinary measure to help salvage the life of Malekar who "was obviously rehabilitated in the fullest sense of the word." The governor said he feared that with deportation to his homeland, Malekar might face retrial or recrimination.
Lee's pardon is the second reprieve Malekar has received within the last week, and yesterday from his Baltimore City prison he said he could barely understand his good fortune. "I don't know exactly what is going on . . . It's going to be a great happy life. I want tosh ow this (the pardon) to everyone in Hagerstown."
It was in Hagerstown, on a work-release job at the Fountain Head Country Club, that Malekar made the friends who have employed the attorneys and lobbied the politicians to win his release.
Last week, because of their efforts, U.S. District Judge Roszel Thomsen signed an order barring immigration officials from deporting Malekar. This was a scant two hours before Malekar's flight was scheduled to depart from Baltimore-Washington International Airport for India.
With Lee's pardon, that deportation order changes significantly. No longer is Malekar a convicted criminal who must be deported by law.
Instead, he is another alien whose visa has expired. (Malekar's visa expired while he was serving time for his conviction.)
It is "relatively inconsequential grounds for deportation," said Alfred Petersam, deputy director of the Baltimore District Immigration Office.
In January 1974 Lalita Khambadkone was strangled to death in her home and her house-servant, Malekar, was arrested and convicted of the crime.
She was the wife of an Indian economist who worked here for the International Monetary Fund and lived in Potomac. the couple had brought Malekar, then an illiterate street dweller, to this country to live with them and care for their children.
According to court testimony, Malekar's living standards at the home were nearly intolerable by American standards but far more comfortable than the archways and gutters of Bombay. It was suggested at the trial that Malekar was angry at his life, isolated because his native language of Marathi was different from the others spoken in the household, when he apparently killed Khambadkone.
"Once a person makes a mistake, a person learns something inside," Malekar said yesterday.
Thursday, Malekar will go before the Immigration Service at a hearing where he will ask that his case be reopened.
Rosie Wolf, the Hagerstown woman who says she has loved Malekar since October, would not comment on reports that she may have already applied for a marriage license. "I just don't know what to say. I really didn't know this was going to happen, to tell you the truth. I can say that as soon as I can I'm getting the license."
If they are wed, Malekar and Wolff need not worry about his visa status, officials have said, since he would automatically become a foreign national.
"What he wants more than anything else is to become an American citizen," said Robert Charlesworth, manager of the Fountain Head Country Club in Hagerstown where Malekar worked as a participant in a prison work-release program.
Malekar taught himself English and rebuilt his life at the nearby Maryland Correctional Training Center where he was serving time. There, he said, he came to enjoy the hot meals, the clean cotton underwear, and the chance to learn skills. It was a world, he said, that he had never known: not in his small country village in Maharashtra state, in Bombay, nor in the Potomac home of the Khambadkones.
If Malekar is successful at the Thursday hearing, when the court order barring his deportation expires, then there will be nothing between him and a new life, said Marvin M. Polikoff, attorney for Malekar.
"His perspective in-laws have a house for them, he has a job at the country club . . . everything."
Also contributing to this story were Washington Post staff writer Christopher Dickey and special correspondent Chris Schauble.