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Maryland Governor Commutes Sentence Of Only Woman On Death Row

January 20, 1987

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ A day before leaving office, Gov. Harry Hughes on Tuesday commuted the death sentence of the only woman on Maryland’s death row.

Hughes reduced the sentence of convicted murderer Doris Ann Foster, 42, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The governor’s decision leaves 17 inmates awaiting the death penalty in Maryland. The last execution in the state was in 1961.

Mrs. Foster was convicted of the January 1981 murder of her landlady, who was stabbed to death with a screwdriver during a robbery and whose body was dumped in a canal. Two different juries had found Mrs. Foster guilty.

Hughes said his decision was based on a number of factors, including what he said was a ″lingering doubt that Doris Foster actually committed the murder.″

Mrs. Foster’s husband confessed three times to the crime, then recanted each time, while Mrs. Foster has continually denied that she committed the murder, the governor noted.

Although the governor opposes capital punishment, it was the first time in his eight-year tenure that he had commuted a death sentence. His successor, Gov.-elect William Donald Schaefer, takes office Wednesday.

First convicted in 1982, Mrs. Foster won a retrial. In 1984, she was convicted and sentenced to death a second time. Maryland’s highest court upheld the death sentence; last year the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the case.

The prosecutor who handled Mrs. Foster’s retrial, Cecil County State’s Attorney John L. Scarborough, said last week he had no doubt she committed the fatal act.

At one time, Mrs. Foster had said she would rather die in the gas chamber than spend the rest of her life in prison.

But her attorney, Michael Millemann, said Tuesday that Mrs. Foster is ″very excited about living.″

″She is depressed about the notion of spending the rest of her life in prison, but she definitely wants to live,″ Millemann said.

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