Eraina Pretty, Maryland’s longest-incarcerated woman, has spent 42 years of her 60-year sentence behind bars for a violent crime. Since she’s been in prison, Pretty has acted as a mentor to fellow inmates and has been approved for parole twice by the Maryland Parole Commission only to be denied her freedom by two of the state’s governors. Now, the 60-year-old has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and her daughter, with the help of representatives from the University of Maryland School of Law, is seeking her release.
From the Baltimore Sun:
Pretty grew up in Baltimore, poor and abused as a girl, according to her advocates. In early 1978, at age 18, Pretty became involved with a man, five years her senior, who committed two separate but equally hideous crimes: the robberies and execution-style killings of Preston Cornish, a social worker, and Louis Thomas, the owner of an all-night grocery store and the father of four children.
Pretty did not do the shootings, her boyfriend did. But Baltimore prosecutors said Pretty was party to both crimes: She allegedly disposed of the murder weapon in the Cornish case and, two months later, helped set up the armed robbery that ended with Thomas’s murder in his Reisterstown Road store.
Later that year, Pretty, her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s accomplice pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges. Each received sentences of life plus 15 years. Pretty has been in the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup ever since.
Pretty’s daughter, Kecha Dunn, said she found out about her mother’s diagnosis through Facebook and later confirmed it with the prison’s warden. Dunn has teamed up with Professor Leigh Goodmark and attorney Lila Meadows in urging Gov. Larry Hogan—one of two governors who previously rejected the parole board’s approval of Pretty’s release—to commute her sentence.
“We are submitting a request to the governor asking that he commute Ms. Pretty’s sentence and release her,” Goodmark said. “The governor can grant that request on his own at any time. We continue to be very concerned about her health.”
It’s unclear why either governor denied Pretty parole in the first place, but, apparently, it happens often.
In Maryland, the governor can reject a parole commission recommendation that a man or woman serving life be released. It has happened a lot. Some, if not most, of the men on the 50-plus list I mentioned at the start probably were recommended for parole at some point but rejected by governors.
Amid reports of the coronavirus spreading in Maryland prisons, Hogan ordered the commission to speed up consideration for all inmates age 60 and over who were convicted of non-violent crimes. Pretty isn’t eligible for release under that order because she was convicted of a violent crime, but one would think that after a parole board cleared her for release—not once, but twice—she would be an obvious candidate for special consideration.
In fact, Pretty has been praised by fellow inmates—including some who have been paroled—who say they are “grateful for Pretty’s guidance behind bars,” as well as a former warden who lauded Pretty for her “quiet leadership among inmates,” according to the Sun.
Pretty’s prison record shows that she’s committed only three rules infractions in the 42 years that she’s been in prison.