A manhunt may be launched for four murderers who ‘hit the ground running’ after being pardoned and released from prison, according to authorities.
Mississippi’s Attorney-General Jim Hood also temporarily blocked the release of 21 inmates who had controversially been given pardons or medical release by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour in one of his final acts in office.
Mr Hood told CNN: ‘We’ll catch them. It’s just a matter of time.’
The injunction was issued from the attorney-general over some of the Republican Governor’s actions – after he granted pardons or early release for around 200 criminals.
Scroll down for full list of pardons and video
Controversial: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour spent his final days in office granting pardons or early release to around 200 people – including more than two dozen convicted killers
Mr Hood said he believed Mr Barbour might have violated the state constitution by pardoning some inmates, who failed to give enough public notice that they wanted to have their records cleared.
The pardons included four convicted murderers and a convicted armed robber who were released last Sunday. Their whereabouts were not known since they left jail.
Mr Hood said the state was unable issue arrest warrants because crimes were not known to have been committed.
The lawmaker told CNN: ‘They have a legal document saying they are free to go… This is such a unique problem that no law has ever had to address yet.’
The Mississippi Constitution says any inmate seeking a pardon must publish notice about his intentions in a local newspaper 30 days before it can be granted by the governor.
Circuit Judge Tomie Green issued the injunction. But Mr Barbour said last night – just a day after leaving office – he believes people misunderstood why he gave reprieves to more than 200 inmates.
Criminal past: Jennifer Wilder, left, was pardoned for sexual battery, and Rheon Mcshepard, right, was given a medical/conditional suspension of sentence following his murder/homicide sentencing in 1996
PAST PARDONS: CLINTON AND RICH
Mr Barbour is not the first politician to court controversy by pardoning criminals – although it’s rarely been seen on this scale before.
Bill Clinton caused a storm
by pardoning Marc Rich (right), who was in a huge
tax evasion and fraud case, on his last day as president.
It was believed this pardon was thanks to more than $1.5million donated by Mr Rich’s ex-wife Denise to the Democratic Party and Clinton Library. But Mr Clinton insisted it was for legal reasons.
Nine men were executed during Mr Barbour’s time in office – but he gave the gift of life to around 200 criminals by pardoning them or giving them an early release.
Mississippi governors have the right to issue full pardons, but none in the past have granted this many pardons to so many criminals. His predecessor Ronnie Musgrove issued just one.
Most criminals received full pardons, while others received suspended sentences because of medical conditions.
Mr Barbour said 189 of the inmates had already completed their incarceration.
He was limited to two terms and issued the list on Tuesday about the time his successor, Republican Phil Bryant, was being inaugurated. Mr Barbour wouldn’t talk about the pardons on Tuesday.
But on Wednesday he explained: ‘The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licences as well as hunt and vote.
‘My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 per cent of the cases.’
The pardons angered some of his supporters, including conservatives who say the actions tarnished his legacy. It has also created concerns that his decisions may make Mississippi look backwards.
Yet Mr Barbour is unlikely to face political repercussions from the decisions.
He doesn’t expect to run for any elected office, nor does he expect to be chosen as a GOP vice-presidential nominee.
His spokesman could not immediately comment about Judge Green’s decision to temporarily block release of the 21 inmates. It was not clear how many of the 21 are convicted killers.
Section 124 of the Mississippi Constitution says any inmate seeking a pardon must publish notice about his intentions.
Before the governor can grant it, the notice must appear 30 days in a newspaper in or near the county where the person was convicted.
Mr Hood said it’s not clear whether all the inmates pardoned by Mr Barbour met the publication requirement, and that he believes it’s likely that some did not.
‘It’s unfortunate Governor Barbour didn’t read the constitution,’ Mr Hood said on Wednesday.
A Mississippi Department of Corrections spokesman said five inmates let out over the weekend are the only ones on Mr Barbour’s list who had been released as of Wednesday evening.
Temporary block: Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood said he believes Barbour might have violated the state constitution and has moved to temporarily block their releases
She said the 21 were still in custody because processing paperwork generally takes several days and state law requires the department to give victims 48 hours’ notice before an inmate is released.
Each of the five inmates released this past weekend had worked as a trustee at the Governor’s Mansion. They include David Gatlin, convicted of killing his estranged wife in 1993.
‘The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licences as well as hunt and vote’
Also out were Joseph Ozment, convicted in 1994 of killing a man during a robbery; Anthony McCray, convicted in 2001 of killing his wife; and Charles Hooker, sentenced to life in 1992 for murder.
Nathan Kern was the fifth – sentenced to life in 1982 for burglary after at least two prior convictions Each of the five men published legal notices in local newspapers within the past month.
The family of Ozment’s victim Ricky Montgomery were ‘devastated’ to hear of his release on Sunday.
‘We go through this and it’s reliving it over again and again, when I don’t think the general public has any idea of the things these convicts are doing,’ Mr Montgomery’s nephew Mark McAbee told WAPT.
Mr Hood said several of his staff members spent hours on Wednesday calling newspapers and checking whether others on the clemency list published their notices in advance.
Off: Anthony Sansing, left, got a complete and unconditional pardon for murder, and Aaron Brown, right, got the same for his conviction for murder, having a concealed weapon and possession of a controlled substance
He said Judge Green agreed to his request to require each of the five who have been released to appear in court to prove they met the publication requirement.
‘It’s unfortunate Governor Barbour didn’t read the constitution’
Attorney General Jim Hood
He did not say where or when those appearances would take place. Relatives of the killers’ victims said they were outraged by the release, and some said they’re worried for their own safety.
Mr Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, considered running for president this year but said last April that he would skip the race because he didn’t have the ‘fire in the belly.’
The 64-year-old is now on the paid speakers’ circuit and is also working for a Jackson-area law firm and for BGR, the Washington lobbying firm he founded two decades ago.
State records released on Tuesday showed some of those given pardons or early release were rapists, murderers and child sex offenders.
Freed: David Gatlin, left, and Joseph Ozment, right, received full pardons from Governor Haley Barbour
Among those getting the controversial full pardons was the brother of former NFL quarterback and Southern Miss standout Brett Favre.
Earnest Scott Favre had his record cleared in the 1996 death of his best friend, Mark Haverty.
Earnest Scott Favre, brother of pictured NFL quarterback Brett Favre, was pardoned
Favre had driven in front of a train in Pass Christian while drunk, pleaded guilty in 1997, and was sentenced to a year of house arrest followed by two years’ probation.
One of the men freed this weekend, David Gatlin, walked into the trailer of his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis Gatlin, and shot her in the head as she held their two-month-old child in 1993.
Gatlin was found guilty of murder, aggravated assault and burglary and sentenced to life in prison.
In a separate case, Joseph Ozment was convicted in 1994 of murder, conspiracy and armed robbery after shooting dead shop clerk Ricky Montgomery, 33, as he worked.
Both inmates were at minimum security level and were working as trusties at the governor’s mansion – roles granted based on good behaviour.
Other former inmates freed include 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.
In addition to those convicted of manslaughter and murder, Mr Barbour also granted early release to people convicted of DUI deaths, burglary, kidnapping and drug crimes. Many of the people were already out of prison or otherwise free.
But on the way into the Mississippi House chamber for the inauguration of his successor, Republican Phil Bryant, Mr Barbour refused to comment on the pardons or the fury of the victims’ families.
Official pardon: Favre had driven in front of a train in Pass Christian while drunk, pleaded guilty in 1997, and was sentenced to a year of house arrest followed by two years’ probation
‘It’s Phil Bryant’s day,’ Mr Barbour said in response to repeated questions about what he would say to the victims’ relatives.
‘We go through this and it’s reliving it over again and again, when I don’t think the general public has any idea of the things these convicts are doing’
On Monday, state officials revealed that Mr Barbour had given pardons to five men and that they had been released.
Relatives of crime victims had voiced outrage Monday after it was revealed that Mr Barbour had pardoned four convicted murderers.
Those men had worked at the Governor’s Mansion as part of a prison trusty programme.
The Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office released a complete list of pardons and other executive actions on Mr Barbour’s last day on Tuesday.
The governor had served two terms and couldn’t run again due to term limits.
Mr Barbour had released five other convicted killers in 2008. One of them had been granted a conditional release and was pardoned this time.
Mugshots: Larry Darnel Roby, left, was pardoned for murder and racketeering, while Larry Harper, right, was pardoned for homicide, aggravated assault and felony possession of a weapon
New beginnings: Charles Hooker, left, and Anthony McCray, right, were pardoned for murder by the governor
The list released on Tuesday shows Barbour also granted a full pardon to Azikiwe Kambule.
WHO ELSE DID BARBOUR PARDON?
- Michael Graham, whose sentence Mr Barbour suspended in 1998 and whom he pardoned on Tuesday. He was convicted of shooting his ex-wife in 1989 at point-blank range in Pascagoula
- Clinton Jason Moffitt of Hickory Flat, who was convicted in June 2009 of conspiracy to commit voter fraud. Moffitt was among 16 people indicted on fraud charges stemming from the 2007 elections in Benton County. In July 2009, Moffitt was sentenced to five years in prison with two years to serve, two suspended and one under house arrest
- Victor Collins, convicted of fatally beating his girlfriend, Peggy Campbell, in Marshall County in 1994, after Collins was released from jail on larceny charges Campbell had filed against him
- Released two sisters on the condition that one donate a kidney to the other. Jamie and Gladys Scott had served nearly 16 years of their life sentences for an armed robbery when they were released from a prison in Mississippi in January 2011. He granted Jamie an early release because she suffers from kidney failure. He agreed to let Gladys go because she came up with the idea of giving her sister a kidney
He was a South African man whose manslaughter conviction in a 1996 Mississippi carjacking and slaying drew international attention because he was a teenager when the crime was committed and prosecutors had originally sought the death penalty.
In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Kambule, who wanted to withdraw his guilty plea.
Prosecutors said Kambule and Santonia Berry killed social worker Pamela McGill in Madison County on January 25, 1996, because they wanted the Jackson woman’s red 1993 Dodge Stealth sports car.
Her body was found nine weeks later when Berry led authorities to it. Defence lawyers said there was no evidence Kambule fired the shots that killed McGill.
In another case, Mr Barbour gave conditional clemency to Karen Irby, a socialite who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a 2009 wreck that killed two young physicians who were engaged to each other.
Irby, of Jackson, admitted in court that she had two glasses of wine and was going faster than the speed limit when she drove her car into oncoming traffic in northeast Jackson.
The Mercedes-Benz driven by Irby hit a pickup truck driven by Dr Mark Pogue. His fiancee, Dr Lisa Dedousis, was a passenger in Dr Pogue’s truck. Both physicians were killed.
In March 2010, Irby, then 39, pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter. In May 2010, she was sentenced to 18 years for each count, with the prison terms to run at the same time.
Mr Barbour released Irby on the condition that she serve three years of house arrest and two years after that under Department of Corrections supervision.
MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR HALEY BARBOUR’S TRACK RECORD ON PARDONS
Pardons: South Mississippi lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to reduce Haley Barbour’s constitutional clemency powers in 2008
This is not the first time Governor Haley Barbour has pardoned criminals.
Others, listed below, were also enrolled in the prison ‘trusty’ program which allows convicts to perform odd jobs around the governor’s mansion based on their good behaviour.
South Mississippi lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to reduce Barbour’s constitutional clemency powers in 2008.
Bobby Hays Clark shot his ex-girlfriend in the neck in 1996 and was sentenced to 38 years in jail. But just 12 years after the crime, Barbour pardoned him without notifying the family of the victim.
Michael David Graham shot his ex-wife point-blank while she waited at a traffic light in 1989. Barbour suspended Graham’s life sentence, and he was released.
Clarence Jones stabbed his ex-girlfriend 22 times in 1992 and was sentenced to life – until Barbour pardoned him in 2008.
Paul Joseph Warnock shot his girlfriend in the back of his head as she slept in 1989. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1993 but also pardoned in 2008.
William James Kimble was also freed despite a life sentence for robbing and murdering an elderly man in 1991.
THE FULL LIST: ALL 226 PARDONS OR EARLY RELEASES BARBOUR GRANTED