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Vietnam War’s “Last Prisoner of Conscience” Prepares for Freedom

April 9, 1985

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) _ The ″last prisoner of conscience″ from the Vietnam era, who deserted and chained himself to a clergyman to protest the war, has been granted clemency and will rejoin his family, his lawyer said.

Keith A. Mather, 38, of Half Moon Bay, Calif., was released Monday from the stockade at Fort Riley after Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh Jr. approved his appeal for clemency, said Army spokesman Maj. Robert Mirelson.

Mather, who was 21 when he was sentenced to four years’ hard labor for desertion, fled to Canada in 1968 after two months in the Presidio Confinement Facility in San Francisco. He was recaptured in 1980.

The charge and sentence later were reduced to being absent without official leave.

The clemency effectively cut two months from the balance of Mather’s prison term, Mirelson said from Washington.

″I’m glad that the secretary recognized the injustice of having Keith in custody after all these years,″ his attorney, Howard DeNike, said by telephone from San Francisco. ″At this point, we think he’s the last prisoner of conscience from the Vietnam War.″

Mather expects to rejoin his fiancee, Virginia Carroll, on Wednesday and his two children, Reed, 13, and Megan, 10, and to return to his trade as a carpenter, DeNike said.

While Mather was serving time at the Presidio, he was charged in connection with a mutiny in which 27 soldiers refused to fall in for roll call and sang protest songs at they gathered in the stockade.

However, Mather escaped and the charges in the mutiny were dropped during President Gerald Ford’s clemency reviews in 1975.

A military panel in February cut Mather’s remaining sentence in half. The action by the Clemency and Parole Disposition Board, comprised of two officers and one noncommissioned officer, meant Mather would have been eligible for parole in mid-May with credit for good behavior.

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