President Reagan denied pardons to convicted Watergate figures E. Howard Hunt and Jeb Stuart Magruder before he pardoned Watergate burglar Eugenio R. Martinez, administration officials said yesterday.
In each case, Reagan followed the recommendation of the Justice Department's acting pardon attorney.
The attorney, David C. Stephenson, said yesterday, "There is a distinction between the offenses committed by Mr. Martinez, who was one of the foot soldiers . . . in the operation, as compared to the higher-level operations of Hunt and Magruder."
Martinez, 60, was one of seven men originally charged in the June 17, 1972, Watergate break-in, which led to President Nixon's resignation two years later. Martinez pleaded guilty to conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping and served 15 months in prison before being paroled in 1974.
Hunt, 64, served as lookout during the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping, served 32 months and was paroled in 1977.
Magruder, 48, was deputy director of Nixon's reelection committee and pleaded guilty to conspiracy, admitting that he helped plan the Watergate burglary and lied to the Watergate grand jury and at the original trial. He served seven months before his release in 1975.
The Martinez pardon was granted Wednesday and disclosed by Stephenson in response to questions Friday night. Deputy Justice Department press secretary Arthur Brill disclosed the April 20 denial of pardons for Hunt and Magruder in response to questions yesterday.
Explaining the pardon of Martinez, whose pleas had been rejected four times by presidents Ford and Carter, Justice Department press officer Judy Pond said, "Aside from the Watergate connection, there was nothing unusual about this. Martinez has been shown to be an excellent community member since his release."
An official involved in the decisions said, "No one is saying the others will never get a pardon, but they should wait a bit longer."
Martinez, leasing manager of a Miami car dealership, said yesterday, "I have been carrying around for 12 years the label of burglar . . . . I believe Reagan has given me the chance to show the American people that the burglar of the Watergate was a good citizen before and has been a good citizen after . . . ."
Meanwhile, Democrats noted that Reagan is to speak to a Cuban-American group in Miami Friday.
"If it even appears that the pardon was related to any political effort to appeal to Hispanics, I think it will simply backfire and turn most Hispanics' stomachs," New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya said.
Asked if the pardon might be related to the Hispanic vote, Democratic Party Chairman Charles T. Manatt said: "Stranger things have happened in the administration of Ronald Reagan."