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Would-be assassin released from Maryland prison

November 10, 2007|By DAVID DISHNEAU and BEN NUCKOLS

HAGERSTOWN - In the nine years before Arthur Bremer shot George Wallace, assassins killed a U.S. president, a presidential contender and the nation's leading civil rights activist. In the 35 years since, attempts on two presidents' lives have failed.

As Bremer was released Friday from prison after serving two-thirds of his 53-year sentence, a former Secret Service agent said the attack on the Alabama governor during a presidential campaign stop in Laurel, Md., prompted lifesaving changes in security strategies.

"Every attempt triggers the implementation of additional countermeasures," said Joseph A. LaSorsa, who retired in 1996 and runs a security firm in Pompano Beach, Fla.

Bremer, 57, left the Maryland Correctional Institution near Hagerstown before dawn Friday after serving 35 years for attempted murder. He didn't speak to reporters and doesn't want to, state prison officials said.

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"He's kept a decidedly low profile," state Parole Commission Chairman David R. Blumberg said. "He's turned down all requests for notoriety and interviews, including some that had money attached to them."

Bremer earned his mandatory release through good behavior and by working in prison.

The Division of Parole and Probation will supervise him until his sentence ends in 2025, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said.

The agency didn't say where in the state Bremer has gone to live, except that it wasn't in Washington County, where the prison is located. Privacy will allow Bremer "to become acclimated to today's world at his own pace and with as much anonymity as possible," an agency statement read.

Under the conditions of his release, Bremer must stay away from elected officials and candidates. He must undergo a mental health evaluation and receive treatment if the state deems it necessary, and he can't leave Maryland without written permission from the parole commission. The conditions also require Bremer to submit to electronic monitoring.

Wallace and three others were wounded May 15, 1972, in the shooting outside a busy shopping center.

Bremer, then 21, grew up in Milwaukee during an era of remarkable violence against national public figures. President Kennedy's murder in 1963 was followed by the assassinations in 1968 of the Rev. Martin Luther King and, two months later, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.

Bremer likened himself in his diary to President Lincoln's killer, John Wilkes Booth.

LaSorsa said armored vehicles were put into use for presidential motorcades after President Kennedy's assassination. He said the Secret Service started offering protection to presidential candidates after Robert Kennedy was slain. Since the Bremer attack, agents have scouted campaign stops much more thoroughly before candidates arrive.

"Protection today is much more proactive than it ever has been," LaSorsa said.

Nick J. Zarvos, who was shot in the neck as a member of Wallace's Secret Service detail, said audiences at today's political events are often screened by metal detectors - something unheard of in 1972.

"You just try to stay ahead of the game," he said.

Today, many candidates eschew appearances in wide-open areas such as mall parking lots, and limit interaction with ordinary voters. Rudy Giuliani travels with a private security, and his crew has been known to whisk him away quickly from events.

Secret Service details travel with Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, but other candidates say that level of protection would cramp their style.

"I've never done it. After we won New Hampshire in 2000, they really tried to get us, but we said no," John McCain said Friday in Concord, N.H. "It's an invasion of your ability to have contact with voters."

Security consultant Ned Timmons, a former FBI agent in Walled Lake, Mich., said the assassination attempts and, more recently, school shootings, have made citizens more willing to tell police about threat signals - and officers more eager to act on them. Treating dangerous behavior early may prevent assassination attempts, he said.

"I think that if a person has a tendency to rely on deadly force or think about deadly force, if that's not treated, it could escalate," Timmons said.

Modern electronics enable authorities to eavesdrop on suspects' conversations more easily than in the 1960s, Timmons said.

Bremer case quick facts

·Arthur Bremer was not paroled. In fact, the Maryland Parole Commission denied him parole 10 years ago.

· The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) did not "let Bremer out early." Bremer is getting out now because of state law that allows inmates to earn credits to shorten their time spent behind bars. This is state law, not DPSCS policy.

· These credits are awarded for work assignments, educational programming and special projects, in addition to good conduct. Bremer's work and behavior in prison earned him many such credits.

· Those released from sentences affected by credits are mandatory releasees, because, by law, they must be freed from prison.

· Mandatory releasees like Bremer are required to be under the supervision of Parole and Probation agents until the end of their original sentences. In Bremer's case, his entire 53-year sentence expires in 2025, meaning he will be required to report to his agent regularly until 2025. If he violates this, or any special condition of his release, he is subject to arrest and reincarceration.

Source: Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services

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