Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has signed off on early release for two men sentenced to life for crimes committed when they were teenagers, the first governor to do so in more than two decades.
Maryland is an outlier among the states: Just a handful give the governor ultimate power to accept or reject parole recommendations.
More than 300 people in Maryland are serving life sentences for offenses committed before they turned 18, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Since Hogan (R) took office in 2015, the Maryland Parole Commission has vetted and recommended the release of 21 of those “juvenile lifers.” Hogan has overruled the commission 18 times.
Influential state lawmakers recently began drafting legislation to revoke the governor’s power in the parole system.
Even though Hogan has been more lenient than any governor in a generation, the infrequency with which inmates recommended for release are granted freedom has criminal justice reformers agitating anew for change.
“We really need to get the governors out of it,” said state Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
She said she met Tuesday with colleagues to start drafting the bill. It will be considered next year by a General Assembly that is under new leadership and has swelling ranks of liberal-leaning lawmakers, factors that give Kelley and others optimism it may pass.
“Governors having discretion — and not just this governor — means that anything could happen. There’s no rhyme, no reason,” Kelley said. “It just shouldn’t be a matter of how a governor feels. We ought to have policy. We ought to have a systematic process.”
Hogan, through a spokesman, declined to explain his reasoning for granting parole to these men. He also declined to say whether the decision represents a formal shift in policy.
“The governor takes these responsibilities very seriously, and makes each of these decisions on a case-by-case basis, weighing a number of factors,” Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said in a statement. “We do not comment on paroles and commutations out of respect for the privacy of people trying to get their lives back together.”
In the past, Hogan has objected to giving up the power to grant parole to people sentenced to life, arguing in a 2018 letter to state lawmakers that it “forces the responsibility for the final decision on one elected official who can be held accountable by the voters.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited a sentence of life without parole for juveniles in all but the rarest cases, saying most juvenile offenders should have a “meaningful opportunity” to show they have matured — and to be released. Last year, Maryland’s highest court in a divided decision upheld the legality of the state’s parole system, finding that it provides “meaningful opportunity” for juvenile offenders to obtain early release.
The decision from the Maryland Court of Appeals is separate from a pending federal lawsuit filed three years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union that alleges the system is unconstitutional, in part, because no governor had paroled a juvenile offender sentenced to life in more than 20 years.
Sonia Kumar, the lead ACLU attorney on the case, said that any early release by Hogan is progress but that such grants are still an exception and not part of a predictable, fair system her clients are seeking.
“Under Maryland’s current parole scheme, the governor is free to decide to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, if it is politically helpful to do so,” Kumar said in a statement.
“As long as Maryland keeps the exclusive authority to parole in the hands of the Governor rather than the Maryland Parole Commission, people who have done everything to turn their lives around will be treated like political footballs,” she said. “It is cruel — and a violation of the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions — to operate a system of parole in which actual releases are so exceptional and rare as to be newsworthy.”
In the past, it was not uncommon for Maryland governors to parole prisoners serving life terms — three governors paroled 181 inmates between 1969 and 1994, according to court records. But that changed after convicted murderer Rodney Stokes killed his girlfriend and committed suicide while on work release in 1993. Then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared in 1995 that “a life sentence means life” and said he would sign no paroles in life-term cases.
In recent years, Glendening has disavowed that position and urged the state to take governors out of the parole process for “juvenile lifers.”
After the federal lawsuit was filed, the state held nearly 200 parole hearings before commissioners appointed by the governor. Parole Board commissioners review records, consider the advice of experts, notify victims and interview inmates before making recommendations to the governor, who must act within 180 days.
Hogan has granted early release through other means to those serving life terms by commuting sentences and approving inmates for medical parole, according to state records.
In February 2018, Hogan announced a formal process for evaluating whether to grant parole through an executive order that he said would “help us achieve a proper balance between public safety and our administration’s goal of helping ex-offenders successfully reenter the community.”
The Hogan administration did not announce the recent decisions to grant parole to Navarus Mayhew and Shawn Delco Goodman, and to allow Robert Davis to be paroled without his signature.
Instead, the governor’s action was reflected in response to a public-records request first released to Capital News Service.
Mayhew and Goodman, both 42, had served 24 and 27 years, respectively. Davis, 54, had been in prison for 37 years.
In 1995, Mayhew was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder for shooting two tire store workers in the parking lot of the Landover Mall in September 1994, when he was 17. Cleavie Cosy Beaty, 35, was killed.
Goodman was 15 when he robbed a Capitol Heights convenience store in 1992 with another teenager, Willie Love Hamilton. Hamilton fatally shot the clerk, a 39-year-old Nigerian immigrant named Uwoma Afamefuna Elue. Both Goodman and Hamilton were tried as adults and convicted of first-degree murder. Hamilton remains in prison.
Davis was convicted of first-degree murder in 1982 for a fatal shooting in Baltimore. He was 16 at the time.
The leading plaintiff in the ACLU case, Calvin McNeill, remains in prison. He was locked up at 17 and is now 55. He was convicted of murder for his role in the 1981 robbery of a Baltimore dice game in which someone died, according to his lawyers. He has been denied release three times despite recommendations for parole by the commission.
Advocates of changing the system argue that if Maryland’s criminal justice system cannot rehabilitate people enough for them to be released eventually, then the system is not working.
“No one is saying they haven’t done something extremely bad and they need to be punished. But to keep them there for 30 or 40 years really says we have no desire or ability to rehabilitate them,” said Del. Pamela E. Queen (D-Montgomery), another legislative leader on changing the parole system.
“If we don’t think this formal process is working,” she said, “then we need to revamp it.