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Priest's jail sentence is terminated


THE GOVERNOR of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, reversing an earlier decision, has agreed to release from prison a man who was convicted in 1986 for his part in a murder, but who was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States last summer.

James Tramel was 17 when his school room-mate, David Kurzman, killed Michael Stephenson, a homeless man whom he mistook for a member of a gang. Mr Tramel took no part in the murder, but fully accepted his legal guilt and moral culpability. In prison, he took a Master's degree in theology, ministered to sick and dying prisoners in the hospice, led worship, and taught and counselled prisoners preparing for release.

Mr Schwarzenegger's decision a year ago to reverse the unanimous decision of a parole board that Mr Tramel should be released outraged church opinion (News, 15 April 2005). The Bishop of California, the Rt Revd William Swing, personally supported Mr Tramel's calling to the priesthood, and challenged the Governor to substantiate his claim that Mr Tramel was a danger to society.

The Bishop said, after a sermon delivered on Easter Sunday last year: "I have no quarrel with the Governor personally. . . I am only moved to cry out against a system that takes a resurrected life, throws it back into prison for a subjective rationale, and buries that life indefinitely."

Mr Schwarzenegger has not announced why he changed his mind. Bishop Swing, who ordained Mr Tramel, will introduce him to the congregation at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on Easter Sunday morning. He is to be an assisting priest at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Berkeley, and is engaged to be married to another priest, the Revd Stephanie Green, who visited the prison to help him with his theology degree.

The Bishop told the Los Angeles Times on Monday: "You don't have to believe in resurrection. You can just look up and see it."

Mr Tramel told the paper: "I feel humbled. I feel the weight of my responsibility to justify the faith people have put in me."

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