Governor following tradition of giving pardons in final days
As he prepares to leave office next week, Gov. Haley Barbour is considering clemency for some criminals, as many governors before him have done in the waning days of their administrations.“The Governor’s Office is reviewing applications for pardons that have been forwarded to us by the Parole Board,” a Barbour spokeswoman said in a short written statement — the only response to questions about his clemency requests and plans. “Gov. Barbour will make decisions on which pardons to grant at the appropriate time.”Barbour’s use of the gubernatorial clemency powers granted in the state Constitution has appeared to be in line with other recent Mississippi governors in number and frequency. And governors in many states — and the president — have and do exercise such powers.
Gov. Haley Barbour is considering requests for clemency for convicts as he prepares to leave office next week. Story: Barbour’s clemency Story: Gubernatorial pardons But Barbour’s use has brought him many political slings and arrows. He’s been criticized at times for not granting leniency to convicts, and for some of those he did spring. Though he may have been frugal in granting clemency, several of those he has released had been convicted of violent crimes and given long or life sentences. Governors releasing such violent offenders is comparatively rare, legal experts said. Barbour’s clemency record came under particular media scrutiny during his erstwhile campaign for president, and questions of whether he was sensitive to violent crimes against women. Pundits noted of six killers he had released, four had killed their girlfriends or ex-wives. One, whom he granted a 90-day furlough, had been convicted of kidnapping, robbing, beating and raping a woman in Starkville. Barbour revoked the furlough and had the man returned to prison after complaints and a threatened lawsuit from Louisiana officials, furious the man showed up there without notification by Mississippi.“Gov. Barbour has certainly done some that left a lot of people wondering, understandably, about his compassion for abused women,” said Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffe. “Aren’t there people serving time for nonviolent crimes, who could be considered without doing further injury to families who have lost women in their lives?“Homicide cases, in general, are poor candidates for pardons, especially crimes against women, which is a core problem in the criminal justice system. We need to be sending the message to men abusing and harming women that this is simply intolerable.”
Barbour drew outrage locally from victims’ families, law enforcement and lawmakers over the release of two South Mississippi killers.In 2008, Barbour suspended the life sentence of Michael David Graham, who had been working as a trusty at the Governor’s Mansion. Graham had been sentenced to life for the 1989 murder of his ex-wife, Adrienne Klasky. Graham shot Klasky with a shotgun as she sat in her car at a traffic light in Pascagoula. TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Gov. Haley Barbour is considering requests for clemency for convicts as he prepares to leave office next week. Story: Barbour’s clemency Story: Gubernatorial pardons Another, Joseph Goff, was released after serving only eight years of his 20-year sentence for shooting to death a 19-year-old man in Gautier. Goff was released early by a combination of a plea bargain — down from murder to manslaughter — from the local DA at the time, state laws and regulations aimed at reducing prison population, and Barbour’s granting Goff time off for helping clean up after hurricanes.Barbour noted at the time he knocked off only about four months from Goff’s sentence for hurricane cleanup and that state laws aimed at reducing prison population were mostly responsible for his early release. The release of Graham and Goff resulted in a failed attempt by some South Mississippi lawmakers to restrict gubernatorial clemency powers.Goff was one of more than 280 inmates whom Barbour, through executive orders, gave time off their sentences for hurricane cleanup. More recently, he has done the same for dozens of inmates who worked after numerous tornadoes hit across the state in 2011.Other governors have granted such time off, including former Gov. Kirk Fordice, who reduced sentences for inmates who worked after an ice storm in the mid-1990s.Mississippi governors can pardon convicts, and their decision is final and not subject to court challenge. Also, they can suspend or otherwise commute or reduce sentences with conditions. Barbour has several times used sentence suspensions, noting if the convict gets in trouble, he or she will go back in the slammer.Clemency deniedBut Barbour also has been criticized for his reluctance to grant clemency in some cases.During his first administration, Barbour declined clemency for Cory Maye, a Jefferson Davis County man sentenced to death for shooting a police officer during a botched drug raid.Maye thought the officers, who were looking for someone else in Maye’s duplex, were intruders and he shot and killed an officer, the son of the town’s police chief. National media speculated the case had racial elements — Maye was black and the slain officer white. Some gun-rights advocates also called for Maye’s release, but Barbour refused. The courts later overturned Maye’s death sentence, then allowed a plea bargain for Maye’s release last summer, after serving 10 years.
In 2006, Barbour denied a request for clemency for Jamie and Gladys Scott, two sisters given life sentences for their involvement in a 1993 armed robbery in Scott County. Many civil rights activists, the NAACP, commentators, one of their prosecutors and even the victim of the robbery called for their release.In late 2010, as he was exploring a run for president and under intense national media scrutiny, Barbour suspended the sisters’ sentences. He did so on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to her ailing sister, a condition some legal commentators found bizarre. The sisters were released in early 2011, after serving 16 years.Barbour has said his clemency is usually granted on the recommendation of the Department of Corrections or Parole Board. He said it’s in accordance with long-standing laws or practice, such as for trusties chosen by penal authorities who serve without any problems at the Governor’s Mansion. TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Gov. Haley Barbour is considering requests for clemency for convicts as he prepares to leave office next week. Story: Barbour’s clemency Story: Gubernatorial pardons Check and balanceP.S. Ruckman, political science professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois, an author of books on pardon powers, and owner of the Pardon Power blog site, said Barbour ranks low nationally in the number of pardons granted. However, he said, most governors grant pardons clearing people’s records after they’ve served their time, not to release them early. He said Barbour’s commutation of several convicts’ long or life sentences for violent crimes is unusual for a governor.Some observers in Mississippi and elsewhere have said executive clemency power for the president and governors is antiquated and should be abolished or restricted.Ruckman and Steffe, however, note executive clemency is a check and balance the founders of the nation and states included for good reason.“We live in a society of checks and balances, and somebody has to have the last word,” Steffe said.Ruckman said: “If our legislative and judicial branches were perfect, I’d be all for getting rid of the pardon power. But they’re not.”Former Gov. William Winter said: “If you did do away with it, you’d certainly take a lot of headaches away from the Governor’s Office.”Prisons overcrowdedWinter, governor from 1980 to ’84, said he reserved a full pardon for “cases where there were obvious miscarriages of justice.” State records show he granted only one full pardon.But Winter said he did, like Barbour, conditionally suspend or otherwise reduce many inmates’ sentences, under federal pressure over prison overcrowding.“We were simply forced to,” Winter said. “I was confronted during my administration with a penitentiary and correctional system under court order to reduce the number of inmates. I was obliged to let out several hundred. We tried to do it in an orderly way, with the cooperation of local law enforcement and only after approval by parole and probation boards.“We got some people out, but they were not high risk and almost all of them were not convicted of a violent crime,” Winter said. “I spent an inordinate amount of time wrestling with the correctional system. Our largest building program under my administration — not because I wanted it — was for penal facilities.”Steffe said he’s curious to see what, if any, clemency Barbour grants in his final days in office.“We’ll see if the governor’s experience in office has increased his understanding, concern and compassion for women who have been the victims of violent crimes,” he said.