WASHINGTON — Arthur H. Bremer, who as a young loner 35 years ago made a bold grab for notoriety by shooting four people -- including Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace -- in a suburban Maryland parking lot, was released from state prison early Friday morning after officials said he had turned himself into "a model prisoner."
Now 57, the man who put Wallace in a wheelchair was set free by a Maryland state law mandating his supervised release because he had amassed numerous credits for good behavior behind bars. But authorities said Bremer must adhere to strict guidelines, never leave the state and "stay away from any local, state, federal or foreign official or office holder, as well as a current candidate."
His release appears to mark the first return to freedom for any of the perpetrators of a string of successful or attempted assassinations from the 1960s to the early 1980s. Lee Harvey Oswald was killed in custody shortly after shooting President Kennedy. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassin, James Earl Ray, died of natural causes in prison. Others have been denied parole, including Sirhan Sirhan, who shot Robert F. Kennedy; Mark David Chapman, killer of John Lennon; and Sara Jane Moore and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, who made separate failed attempts on President Ford in 1975.
The only other one close to getting out appears to be John W. Hinckley Jr., who shot and wounded President Reagan in 1981. He has been allowed to leave a Washington mental institution for brief visits with his family.
"I would describe Arthur Bremer as a model prisoner," said Rick Binetti, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "He kept to himself. He stayed out of trouble."
Wallace, whose cry of "segregation forever" catapulted him to national attention, was running a racially charged campaign for president when he was confronted by Bremer in a shopping mall parking lot in Laurel, Md., on May 15, 1972. The candidate was shaking hands with supporters as Bremer jammed the barrel of a .38-caliber revolver against Wallace's abdomen.
The young man from Wisconsin started firing rapidly, hitting Wallace four times, sending one of the bullets into his spine. Three others in the crowd also were shot.
Wallace would never walk again. His presidential prospects effectively ended that afternoon.
His son, George C. Wallace Jr., said his father spent the rest of his life in constant pain. Before his death in 1998, the former governor and White House hopeful wrote to Bremer in prison, offering his forgiveness and telling him that if he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, as he had, "we'll be in heaven together, Arthur."
Wallace's son, reacting to Bremer's release, told the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala.: "I think God's law has been adhered to, and we're comfortable with that." But, he said, "I don't believe that given the suffering my father endured all those years from the gunshots and the constant paralysis -- I don't think Arthur Bremer's incarceration comes close to that type of suffering."
Records and Bremer's personal diaries from before the shooting showed that he also had considered shooting then-President Nixon, and that his ultimate goal was to seize notoriety after a childhood of shyness that often left him the target of cruel jokes in school.
Bremer pleaded insanity, but a jury convicted him of four counts of assault with intent to murder. He was sentenced to 53 years, and if he violates the terms of his release, he could be returned to prison until 2025.
He spent most of his incarceration at a state penitentiary in Hagerstown, Md., largely forgotten.
Maryland prison officials said that over the years Bremer changed dramatically. They said he worked as an educational aide to other inmates, and sometimes earned up to $1 a day. But he has never spoken about the shootings. He repeatedly turned down requests for interviews. On Friday, he was released before dawn so as to avoid the cameras.
Roger Bremer of Milwaukee, his younger brother, told the Baltimore Sun he was uncertain how Arthur would adapt to life outside prison.
"I'd be afraid to see him," Roger Bremer said. "Nobody knows what he'll be like after all these years. He's 57 years old. How's he going to find a job?"
He added that authorities said his brother was "kind of like a hermit" in prison and "doesn't talk and won't say what's on his mind."
Roger Bremer agreed with that assessment: "He was always a loner."