HOW ON EARTH COULD THIS HAPPEN?
At least part of the logic behind the decision making at the time was that Clemmons was sentenced for crimes that he had committed when he was only 16-years old and that he had served 11 years of his sentence - readers should certainly feel free to assess the quality of that logic on its face. For what it is worth, Abraham Lincoln used it regularly in his own clemency decisions. And, by the way, you read that right up top. The guy was sentenced to 95 to 108 years! What on earth did he do? Murder ten people and rob banks inbetween? Go ahead, cut through the awful "reporting" and find out the answer for yourself.
CLEMENCY (NOT PARDON) RECOMMENDED
Contrary to the romantic vision of the reactionary reader, knee-deep in Clint-Eastwood-Nixonian retributive justice, Gov. Huckabee's decision was not unilateral, and he did not summarily toss Clemmons out into the street to rape and pillage. Instead, a five-member State board first recommended unanimously that clemency be granted to Clemmons. That's right, a group of individuals with more - and better - information than Huckabee recommended clemency (not a pardon) for Clemmons. No one has ever pardoned Clemmons, or even recommended a pardon. Thus, headlines at The Hill and The Atlantic suggesting that Clemmons was "pardoned" by Huckabee are as stupid as they are sensational.
EFFECT: ELIGIBILITY, NOT FREEDOM
In addtion, the effect of Huckabee's commutation of sentence, granted in May of 2000, was only to make Clemmons eligible for parole - the granting of parole, again, being a decision made by an entirely different body of decision makers. Salon actually says, "Huckabee's the man who set him free"! Ditto the UK Times Online, "Freed by Huckabee"! PardonPower readily admits that those headlines are much more sexy than "Recommended Commutation After 11 Years Makes Prisoner Parole Eligible!"
After Huckabee's clemency decision, allowing for the possibility of parole, the seven-member Arkansas State Parole Board - operating with more (and better) information on the case - granted parole on July 13, 2000. As it turns out, a county judge also "strongly supported" such leniency to the Board, in 1999, and the original sentencing judge did not oppose the recommendation.
Given 1) Huckabee's logic and the 2) actual effect of his decision making, it appears that the State's parole process and current procedures in the State Washington for releasing criminal suspects are much more worthy of criticism. Incidentally, Governor Huckabee granted 1,033 pardons and commutations. See story here and here and here and here and here and here