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January 9, 2012

On way out door, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour pardons five serious offenders who worked at the Governor's Mansion

This AP story, headlined "Miss. Gov. Barbour Pardons 4 Killers," reports on what seems sure to be a high-profile state clemency story in the days and weeks ahead.  Here are the basics:

Outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has pardoned at least four convicted killers who worked as inmate trusties at the Governor's Mansion, including a man who was denied parole less than two weeks ago.

Relatives of three victims told The Associated Press on Monday that state corrections officials notified them over the weekend that the men convicted in the crimes were to be released this past Sunday.  Barbour's office hasn't responded to numerous messages. Barbour, a Republican, leaves office on Tuesday.

Copies of the pardons filed with the Mississippi Secretary of State's office were released Monday. They show he has pardoned at least five men, the convicted killers and a man serving life for robbery.

The inmates are David Gatlin, convicted of killing his estranged wife in 1993; Joseph Ozment, convicted in 1994 of killing a man during a robbery; Anthony McCray, convicted in 2001 of killing his wife; Charles Hooker, sentenced to life in 1992 for murder; and Nathan Kern, sentenced to life in 1982 for burglary after at least two prior convictions.

The pardons outraged victims' relatives as well as Democratic lawmakers, who called for an end to the custom of governors' issuing such end-of-tenure pardons.  "Serving your sentence at the Governor's Mansion where you pour liquor, cook and clean should not earn a pardon for murder," Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat, posted Monday on his Facebook page.

While Barbour's office hasn't responded to messages about the pardons, he told the AP for a 2008 story that releasing the trusties who live and work at the mansion is a tradition in Mississippi that goes back decades.  Trusties are prisoners who earn privileges through good behavior....

Democrats have pounced on the pardon.... Members of the Mississippi House Democratic Caucus will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. today at the Mississippi Capitol Rotunda. They plan to announce legislation to prevent the premature pardon or release of murderers. Democratic members of the legislature will be joined by family members of victims.

Barbour created a similar stir by releasing convicted killer Michael Graham in 2008. The Republican later defended the move as "the custom" of governors to cut short the sentences of the mansion's inmate workers if they behave.

Barbour's three predecessors, dating back to 1988, gave some type of early release or pardon to a total of 12 such prisoners. All but two of them had been convicted of murder. One was serving time for forgery and another for armed robbery and aggravated assault.

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps told the AP for a 2008 story that the inmates who end up working at the Governor's Mansion are often convicted murderers because they are the ones who serve long enough sentences to build the trust needed for such a task.

January 9, 2012 at 06:11 PM | Permalink

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I have lost any respect I had for Mr. Barbour. A pardon for a murderer who had served 40 years--ok. A pardon for a murder committed during a robbery after what, 18 years, is disgusting. And then there's the decade only sentence for killing a spouse.

Unreal. Why jerks like this, who think they're being kind, rub this sort of thing in the faces of victims' families, is simply beyond belief. Barbour has earned the white-hot hatred of victims' families here.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 9, 2012 7:14:34 PM

Governor should only be allowed to commute a sentence when the Parole Board majority says so. A case in Delaware is presently being considered this way.

Democrats pouncing on a pardon? Only because it was a Republican Governor. If this also happened in 2008, why didn't they introduce legislation then? Today's action could have been avoided.

Posted by: DaveP | Jan 9, 2012 8:10:05 PM

what i find interesting is ALL of them worked at the governor's mansion. kind of a silly place to keep murders don't you think!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 10, 2012 2:09:18 AM

That's just weird and wrong. How is this let to go on.

Posted by: seo company | Jan 10, 2012 3:58:43 AM

"Barbour's three predecessors, dating back to 1988, gave some type of early release or pardon to a total of 12 such prisoners. All but two of them had been convicted of murder."

What is wrong with this state's governors? Does this man (Barbour) call himself a conservative?

That "at least four convicted killers" were not executed is pardon enough.

Twice as many Americans believe the death penalty is not imposed often enough as too often. (Gallup, 2010-2011))

Count me in the simple majority.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 10, 2012 8:52:32 AM

I agree, it certainly sounds terrible...But why are convicted murderers working in the Governors mansion? Must be a non-violent type killer......

Its as far out as Judge Jack Camp, skirting felony charges, while doing drugs with a hooker and possessing a gun and serving federal cases on the bench... Around here you don't get out of gun bumps with drugs.

Any one catch any followup on the cases he presided over.

Or is this close enough for government work..

Posted by: Josh2 | Jan 10, 2012 9:32:57 AM

This comment string is a good example supporting Alexander Hamilton's observation in Federalist Paper #74, that "Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed. The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel. As the sense of responsibility is always strongest, in proportion as it is undivided, it may be inferred that a single man would be most ready to attend to the force of those motives which might plead for a mitigation of the rigor of the law, and least apt to yield to considerations which were calculated to shelter a fit object of its vengeance. The reflection that the fate of a fellow-creature depended on his sole fiat, would naturally inspire scrupulousness and caution; the dread of being accused of weakness or connivance, would beget equal circumspection, though of a different kind. On the other hand, as men generally derive confidence from their numbers, they might often encourage each other in an act of obduracy, and might be less sensible to the apprehension of suspicion or censure for an injudicious or affected clemency. On these accounts, one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of government, than a body of men." Or, I would add, than a group of SL&P commenters.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 10, 2012 10:25:53 AM

Well put, Grits.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jan 10, 2012 10:41:59 AM

'On these accounts, one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of government, than a body of men'

Sorry but that is nonsense.
No one person should be the ultimate dispensor of mercy. Because you will have what this governor just did: put murders and violent offenders back on the streets.

I do not want murders back on the streets. However, because of the pardon power that is exactly what happened.
Putting murders back on the street is NOT mercy. It is a slap in the face to the murder's victims and to society in general. It says, it is all right to commit murder. You will not be punished.

Posted by: jim | Jan 10, 2012 11:09:23 AM

In this case, however, we're not talking about a dispassionate dispenser of mercy issuing well-considered, fairly merited pardons in the face of irrational fury by the mob. It's more like pardon by lottery. The scrupulousness and caution Hamilton anticipated seems conspicuously absent.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 10, 2012 11:35:15 AM

Two thoughts:

(1) What better evidence of reform is there than that the State/DOC/Governor's staff would let these guys work, presumably unshackled, in relatively close proximity to the Governor and other important state officials? If they can be trusted to do that, they can probably be trusted on the outside.

(2) Of course, there are probably hundreds of other reformed, non-dangerous inmates rotting in Parchman to whom the Governor gave not a thought. This sort of noblesse oblige gesture is nice for these 4 guys, but ultimately it is evidence of an anti-democratic, plantation mentality. Great for the handful working up in the big house, but not so good for the legions working in the fields of Parchman...

Posted by: Anon2 | Jan 10, 2012 11:52:24 AM

"It is a slap in the face to the murder's victims and to society in general."
Jim & Anon: I heartily concur.

Grits: Hamilton wrote "The criminal code of every country partakes *so much of necessary severity*", in 1787.
Though by no means political scientists to the extent of Hamilton, perhaps the following 20th century wits speak more accurately of our time:

"Too much mercy... often resulted in further crimes which were fatal to
innocent victims if justice had been put first and mercy second"-A. Christie

"We don't give our criminals much punishment,
but we sure give 'em plenty of publicity."-W. Rogers

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 10, 2012 12:05:51 PM

It's an arms race with the left and the right taking turns sparing over who can be toughest.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 10, 2012 1:34:05 PM

"(1) What better evidence of reform is there than that the State/DOC/Governor's staff would let these guys work, presumably unshackled, in relatively close proximity to the Governor and other important state officials? If they can be trusted to do that, they can probably be trusted on the outside."

That was exactly my first thought, Anon2. And that is probably the exact reason there is a tradition of granting such prisoners a pardon. If these prisoners have earned -- and are trusted with -- this "job placement" and have then excelled at the position, there is little reason to prolong their incarceration. Admittedly, a retributivist would probably disagree. But to act as if these grants were baseless or corrupt would be disingenuous.

Posted by: DEJ | Jan 10, 2012 3:06:42 PM

'If these prisoners have earned -- and are trusted with -- this "job placement" and have then excelled at the position, there is little reason to prolong their incarceration. '
The reason they should stay in prison is the reason why they are in prison. If they commited murder, that is reason enough for them to stay in prison.

Posted by: jim | Jan 10, 2012 4:25:45 PM

rodsmith: "what i find interesting is ALL of them worked at the governor's mansion."

me: let me guess, you aren't from the South. Using prison trustees for free labor - supposedly for the benefit of state and local governments but often for the benefit of state and local governmental officials has long been a tradition in Southern states. Ever so often some local governmental official gets arrested for misusing inmate trustee labor for their own benefit - notably, none of those cases ever seem to happen north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Even in Virginia, most people up here are stunned when I tell them that where I used to live jail inmate trustees would be outside of the jail with no guards present and seemingly nothing keeping them from running off doing work for the county.

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Jan 10, 2012 5:49:15 PM

Grits' comment is just plain dumb. First off, under Hamilton's view, the clemency/pardon power is there to right injustices, not provide windfalls to a tiny handful of murderers lucky enough to be a trustie at the gov's mansion. No one can possibly suggest that the original sentences of these murderers was "sanguinary or cruel." Nor would it be cruel to ask that a robber-murderer serve more than 18 or so years, no matter how good he was in jail.

Second, and especially given that your quote of Hamilton really doesn't prove what you think it does (obviously, there's nothing in that quote that suggests that Barbour's decision cannot be questioned), the casual condescension is offputting. By criticizing us, you essentially own Barbour's decision--really, do you think that murderers should be let go after 10 years? You can't really defend that sort of thing on the merits, even though deep down you love it and you don't seem to give a rat's behind about the pain inflicted on victims' families, so you cite a Founding Father ("the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.") and make a snide remark about those of us, upon seeing obvious process unfairness (the few who get to be trusties get a break) and substantive unfairness (the unfounded lenience), who are indignant.

Honestly, Grits, you can take your smug liberal condescension and stick it.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 10, 2012 9:32:25 PM

LOL you just can't get a break can you virginia!

"rodsmith: "what i find interesting is ALL of them worked at the governor's mansion."

me: let me guess, you aren't from the South. Using prison trustees for free labor - supposedly for the benefit of state and local governments but often for the benefit of state and local governmental officials has long been a tradition in Southern states. Ever so often some local governmental official gets arrested for misusing inmate trustee labor for their own benefit - notably, none of those cases ever seem to happen north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Even in Virginia, most people up here are stunned when I tell them that where I used to live jail inmate trustees would be outside of the jail with no guards present and seemingly nothing keeping them from running off doing work for the county.

Erika :)"

WRONG i've lived in flroida almost 40 years about as far south as you can get. yes i know prison industry is a multi BILLION dollar a year business in florida alone....kind of makes us a little two-faced back when we used to talk about communist russia and china about thier SLAVE LABOR camps!

but still to use PEOPLE STILL serving a long sentence for a VIOLENT crime anywhere ABSENT major security LET ALONG the governor's mansion is just NUTS!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 11, 2012 3:35:01 AM

Federalist just because you take your pen name from the federalist papers, don't get all uppity because it's revealed your views contradict the Hamiltonian suggestion that clemency should be "as little possible fettered or embarrassed." Also, nobody in Hamilton's day served sentences as long as these guys, so while you may project that Hamilton wouldn't have considered these sentences "sanguinary and cruel," they would have been unheard of during his lifetime so you don't know that. As for Barbour's decision, it's his, not yours (nor mine, though you want me to "own" it), and it's supposed to be, which was the point of my comment. Finally, frustration at your own intellectual baggage and/or shortcomings is no excuse for telling me to "stick it," etc., which is the kind of childish thing people say when they've lost an argument.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 11, 2012 6:43:28 AM

rodsmith: "WRONG i've lived in flroida almost 40 years about as far south as you can get"

me: culture and geography are two different concepts - just because you live in Florida doesn't mean that you live in the South.

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Jan 11, 2012 7:04:08 AM

Whatev, Grits. Penalties were a lot harsher back in the day. A robber-murderer would have been hanged. It's obvious that Hamilton was talking about the pardon/clemency power being used to right wrongs because of the nature of harsh laws of general applicability. It's far less obvious that he was talking about a governor letting off random murderers with absurdly light sentences. I actually, truth to be told, am a lot less harsh when it comes to clemency than many others here, and I have said so. Hamilton's view probably would have been that you take the good with the bad and that some pardons would be bad, but having the safety valve is a good thing overall. I don't necessarily disagree. But these pardons suck. I know that deep down you love seeing murderers get off--hope this makes you happy.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 11, 2012 9:07:14 AM

Its a sad day when someone convicted of murder can get a pardon, but someone with a marijuana conviction who has been on the pardon list for the last 12 years cannot get one. Impossible to get a pardon in North Carolina.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 11, 2012 10:23:54 AM

"nobody in Hamilton's day served sentences as long as these guys"--Grits

"A robber-murderer would have been hanged."--federalist

Just from one county in Georgia (Chatham):
Daniel Bonnel, _____crime of robbery, hanged Jan 18, 1784;
John Black, ________crime of murder, hanged Apr 2, 1787;
Jeremiah Lancaster, crime of murder, hanged Apr 2, 1787.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 11, 2012 11:36:28 AM

The bottom line is that Barbour has the legal authority to pardon. Of course everyone has the right to voice their opinion of this pardon.

The Loeb Leopold murder of Bobby Franks was possibly as heinous a murder as any I can recall. There was no reason other than the desire to commit the ultimate crime in such a perfect way that the murderers would never be discovered. Clarence Darrow argued the value of rehabilitative vs. retributive justice in order to secure a life sentence vs. death penalty. After 33 years Nathan Leopold was parolled and lived a productive life.

Parole is quite different from pardon, but I would venture to say that before these pardoned murderers worked unsupervised at the Governors Mansion, they were thoroughly evaluated by many. They were not picked at random.

Posted by: beth | Jan 11, 2012 11:56:11 AM

'After 33 years Nathan Leopold was parolled and lived a productive life. '
Of course Leopold's victim can not say that.
'... but I would venture to say that before these pardoned murderers worked unsupervised at the Governors Mansion, they were thoroughly evaluated by many. They were not picked at random.'
THat does not matter.
Murders are not entitled to a second chance. The murders that Barbour pardoned, as well as Nathan Leopold, should all still be in prison.

'The bottom line is that Barbour has the legal authority to pardon.'
That is true. And that is why the pardon power must be restricted to prevent murders from going free.

Posted by: jim | Jan 11, 2012 12:47:23 PM

There was a lot of 'benefit of clergy' and other ways around hanging for felony crimes, even robbery or murder, back in the day, so it is not as if *all* similar crimes resulted in hanging (although many did).

Interestingly, I must partially retract my criticism of Barbour for just taking care of a few of his domestic servants and not looking at other deserving candidates. Apparently he granted about 200 more pardons on his way out the door:

http://news.yahoo.com/mississippi-governor-pardons-210-including-murderers-rapists-003141488--abc-news.html

Posted by: Anon2 | Jan 11, 2012 1:17:41 PM

Erika/virginia,

I don't know how much time you've spent in Florida outside of like Miami or Orlando or Sarasota, but the vast majority of that state (but especially the north central and panhandle regions) is absolutely part of the Old South, culturally.

Posted by: Anon2 | Jan 11, 2012 2:44:44 PM

beth:

Although anyone is potentially capable of good deeds, I would tread carefully when citing Darrow—who stated " There is no such thing as justice — in or out of court."--as a buttress to one's argument, perhaps dealing with him as with Machiavelli.

(1) Darrow escaped with a hung jury when charged with 2 counts of bribing a juror, and scholars increasingly assent to his guilt, and have found evidence of later case of his bribing a juror;

(2) As aforementioned, re: Darrow's success in preventing the deliberate kidnapping and killing of 14-year-old Booby Franks, "The trial, then, was actually a long sentencing hearing in which Darrow contended, with the help of expert testimony, that Leopold and Loeb were mentally diseased."

(3) Darrow made the most harmful speech one could imagine to the inmates at the Chicago jail, then proudly published it. His first lines were as follows:
"If I looked at jails and crimes and prisoners in the way the ordinary person does, I should not speak
on this subject to you. The reason I talk to you on the question of rime, its cause and cure, is
because I really do not in the least believe in crime.

There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there
is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail.
One is just as good as the other. The people here can no more help being here than the
people outside can avoid being outside. I do not believe that people are in jail
because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot
avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their
control and for which they are in no way responsible."

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 11, 2012 3:47:04 PM

Adamakis

Heck yes, I'm sure that Clarence Darrow said many things I would agree and disagree with. He was after all a criminal defense lawyer. From Leopold Loeb to Scopes he was defending those charged with crimes.

Darrow however did not parole Leopold - that was done by a different authority. I don't know if all who murder should be shown mercy or if we should throw away the key regardless of circumstances. I tend to think of people who murder as being capable of evil and put them in a category all their own.

We do sentence non-violent offenders to prison for life without parole. It seems important to me to consider just who does receive mercy and relief.

Posted by: beth | Jan 11, 2012 5:57:07 PM

“Federalist is a miserable half-wit. He wants more and more death sentences.”
Is Federalist a half-wit due to his desire for more death sentences?

If so…

Twice as many Americans believe the death penalty is not imposed often enough as too often. (Gallup, 2010-2011))

So twice as many Americans are half-wits?

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 5, 2012 6:57:39 PM

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