Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gov. Barbour's Wild Clemency Ride

On his last day in office Mississippi Governor signed individual clemency warrants for 209 individuals. It was quite the stunt for a guy who used clemency a mere 8-12 times (depending on who is counting) since entering the office in 2004.

Unusual for a batch of clemency decisions these days, this pile had a kind of relevancy about it. Five offenses were committed way back in the 1960s. Fifteen were committed in the 1970's and forty-five were committed in the 1980's. But, amazingly, 71 were committed in the 1990's and 71 more in the 2000's.  The oldest offense 51.3 years ago. But the average offense was committed 17 years ago. The most recent, just over a year.

Oh, the offenses are generally of the usual sort, drugs, lots of drugs ... possession, selling, buying, producing, etc. And there is a bit of robbery and burglary along the way. And, there's the notable person, or two, like former Packer quarterback Brett Favre's older brother. Fourteen of the warrants are suspensions of sentence for medical reasons. Then again, there are quirky offenses: gratification of lust (oooo!), conspiracy to commit vote fraud (punished by house arrest), possessing crystal meth near a church, cyberstalking and the like.

The signs of a last-minute rush abound. 63 percent of the warrants do not even list the sentences that were given to recipients. Other critical dates are missing right and left. A man named Turner was pardoned. But he has actually been dead for some time, since 1999. The warrant doesn't say when he was convicted, if he died in prison, or anything about why he was pardoned. Which seems odd given the fact that, well, he is dead, and given the fact that someone took the time to note an arsonist from the 1960's was now living a "good, productive and useful life." Clarence Tyer's clemency warrant actually reads like this:
Whereas Clarence Crawford Tyer, Jr. was discharged on; and Now, therefore, I, Haley Barbour ...
Someone needs to slow down a bit here!

Only one of Barbour's warrants explicitly used the phrase "commutation of sentence," but no less than 22 of the decisions reduced the severity of sentence by abruptly ending probation (3) or parole (4) or moving forward tentative "release" (3) or "discharge" (7) dates. Barbour cut over a year off of one individual's need to be under supervision, following a felony arrest for a 3rd D.U.I. Of course, this was all pretty good news for a man named Tate, who was looking at a release date of 2063. Another was looking at a tentative release date of 2025 for D.U.I. homicide.

15 of Barbour's recipients had multiple convictions, in multiple years. Almost 30 were found guilty of murder, manslaughter, accessory to murder or the like. One third of them were originally sentenced to life in prison. It appears three literally walked right out of prison (Harper, Kambule and Irby).

Yes, it was a classic example of just about every thing the pardon power should not be. The only thing that seems to be missing, for now, is some hint of "politics" (donors, supporters, friends, relatives, inside influence and the like). But, give it time. Barbour clearly could have spread these decisions over a period of months, if not years, making each one a little more well-considered, a little less suspicious looking and - for those who really were deserving - something barely worth public celebration. But, no, a Republican governor, in the South, and potential presidential nominee has to keep up appearances.

One thing we can say for certain, now, Barbour will not be considering a run for the presidency any time in this lifetime.

1 comment:

Henry E Clark Jr. said...

this type of actions by Governors and Presidents is why people have lost faith in the Pardon process..I Think all of these people could take a few lessons from Gov.Quinn in the state of IL..He has been fare and vigalint on his decision and to get the backlog done in a timley manner..Gov Quinn once stated-Justic delayed is justice denied---..My hat is off to Mr Quinn and his staff.Also each case if given due consideration...

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