Eraina Pretty was 18 years old when she was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder.
Advocates and others are urging Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to commute the sentence of the state’s longest-serving female prisoner.
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) joined a legislative effort led by Del. Charlotte Crutchfield (D-Montgomery) asking the governor to use his clemency power to release Pretty. About 50 lawmakers signed a letter sent to Hogan with the request Wednesday.
“Even if Ms. Pretty fully recovers from covid-19, she will continue to be at risk in the correctional environment given her age and preexisting conditions,” the letter reads. It was not immediately clear what those conditions were.
A spokesman for the governor did not respond to a request for comment.
Crutchfield wrote that “there was no reason to believe” that Pretty would not be released if she met the criteria established for parole when she was sentenced in 1978. She said Pretty has obtained a degree in sociology from Morgan State University, counsels young women and has not had an infraction in more than two decades.
“Though she was convicted of a violent crime, she is not a violent person,” the letter reads.
Pretty, who was interviewed by Diane Sawyer for an ABC News special on women behind bars in 2015, was charged for her involvement in the murder of a Northwest Baltimore grocer in 1978. She worked at the store at the time and helped her boyfriend tie up the owner, Louis Thomas, during a robbery.
She told Sawyer she is haunted by Thomas’s pleas, begging not to die. She recalled telling the grocer to “just listen to what he tells [him] to do, and nobody was going to die.”
She fled the store and later heard gunshots. Her boyfriend, who she said used to abuse her, had shot and killed Thomas.
In 2003, Pretty asked then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to change her sentence to the death penalty.
“I wrote Gov. Ehrlich and asked him for lethal injection,” she said in the interview. “Because of the victim’s family and everybody. I wanted them to know that I was sorry for the crime that I had committed.”
Leigh Goodmark and Lila Meadow, Pretty’s attorneys, said they have been pushing for her release long before the pandemic. Pretty was recommended for parole in 2008 and was rejected in 2011 by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). She was then recommended for parole in 2015 and rejected in 2019 by Hogan.
Maryland is one of three states, with California and Oklahoma, that requires the governor’s signature to parole inmates sentenced to life.
“The whole reason we have parole is to show that people can change,” Goodmark said. “If parole means anything, you have to look at Eraina Pretty and say she has done everything she has been told to do. The one thing she can’t change is what put her in prison.”
Pretty’s daughter, Kecha Dunn, spoke to her mother briefly this week, and “she seems to be doing okay,” according to Goodmark. She has been released from the hospital and is back at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women at Jessup. Pretty’s lawyers did not know if she still had covid-19.
“They haven’t talked in detail about the medical stuff,” Goodmark said. “After three weeks, she just wanted to know that she was okay.”
Goodmark and Meadow said they have tried to set up a legal call with their client but have been unsuccessful.