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December 12, 2007

Republican Kentucky Gov. grants many pardons and commutations

Perhaps inspired by his party's leader, as detailed in this local Kentucky story, just "before vacating his office, Gov. Ernie Fletcher pardoned or commuted the sentences of 101 people, including several convicted of murder."  Here's more details from the press account:

Among those given relief by the outgoing governor are a man on Death Row, a county judge-executive who hasn't been convicted of a crime and the son of a state lawmaker. The highest-profile case Fletcher changed was the death sentence of Jeffrey Devan Leonard of Louisville.

Leonard was convicted of stabbing a store clerk in 1983. Fletcher reduced his sentence to life without parole. In his commutation, Fletcher said Leonard was not provided adequate representation by his attorney, Fred Radolovich, who has admitted he didn't even know Leonard's name during the trial. "We're not going to execute somebody who clearly was denied a basic right," said David Fleenor, the governor's general counsel. "We're not saying he's a good person."

Fletcher said he spent "hours and hours over the last few days" weighing the merits of the requests of individuals whose cases filled 10 bankers boxes. "None of those decisions that we have to make are easy but I feel like I can lay my head down and say we've done our very best to carry out the duties of the governor till our last day," he said.

In all, he announced 84 pardons and three commutations of prison sentences yesterday. On Sunday, he announced his intention to pardon nine women who sustained years of domestic abuse before killing, or trying to kill, the abusive man in their life.  He also commuted the sentences of five others who committed crimes after enduring domestic abuse.

Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said prosecutors around the state are upset with Fletcher's actions, which undermine the state's legal system. "I think it's a disgrace; It's shameful," Larson said.  "Why do you go through the process" of a trial? Larson said he is particularly upset that Fletcher's legal team did not bother to contact the prosecutors, victims or survivors in many of the cases.

This lengthy companion piece, headlined "Pardons without political pattern: Fletcher issues most in the past 30 years," suggests that concerns about individualized justice and not other goals drove the decision: "in this case, it's possible, experts and observers say, that Fletcher's troubled tenure and practically extinct political future simply allowed him to use one of the governor's greatest powers to do what he thought was right."

December 12, 2007 at 12:41 PM | Permalink


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These prosecutors are over the top. They know that the governor has the power to pardon in their state regardless of whether there is a trial or not. Their whining is what is disgusting, disgraceful, and shameful. If they didn’t want to have their work undone by the governor, there are plenty of other jobs they could have taken.

The have no right to be consulted, or even informed of a pardon.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 12, 2007 12:51:23 PM

They're not saying he should be punished, only that he misused his power. I haven't yet seen you criticize the people who whine about President Bush's "stingy" use of the pardon power, though no one has a right to that, either.

I'm not sure what the norms of pardoning (if there is such a thing) demand of a governor... the prosecutors seem to think that they include contacting people involved with the case. It's as if they mean to suggest that Fletcher took the petitioners' word for it ...

I'd be interested in seeing what Gov. Fletcher's team did to investigate these cases and what reasons they gave for the decisions they made. I find it interesting that Gov. Fletcher appears to have provided some amount of explanation for at least some of the pardons and commutations.

I suspect that the people debating this all have different views of what purpose the pardon power is supposed to serve and perhaps about whether it's a good idea to have it at all.

Posted by: | Dec 12, 2007 1:04:56 PM

I don’t “criticize the people who whine about President Bush's ‘stingy ‘ use of the pardon power” because those people are not the president, and I think that their whining is hardly consequential. But yes, the president can pardon for no reason or any reason at all. In fact, the president can hand out pardons based on racist rationales. I would even go so far as to say that the president can SELL pardons on Ebay (though this might violate the law of the state of the purchaser).

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 12, 2007 1:34:51 PM

I agree, but the prosecutors aren't the president either, and their whining here is probably less consequential than the whining of, say, Adam Liptak.

Posted by: | Dec 12, 2007 1:40:00 PM

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