The Mississippi pardon scandal keeps getting worse and worse for Haley Barbour.
Barbour, whose second and final term as governor of Mississippi ended on Tuesday, pardoned 208 inmates as one of his last acts in office. Of all those pardoned, 5 were released from prison before a Mississippi judge moved to temporarily block the release of 21 of the inmates because they did not publish notice of their intentions in advance. Section 124 of the Mississippi Constitution says that any inmate seeking a pardon must publish notice about his intentions 30 days before the governor can grant his release — a crucial step which those inmates missed.
According to the Associated Press, each of the 5 inmates who were actually released were guilty of committing violent crimes, and each had a unique connection to Governor Barbour.
Each of the five inmates released this past weekend had worked as a trustee at the Governor’s Mansion. They are David Gatlin, convicted of killing his estranged wife in 1993; Joseph Ozment, convicted in 1994 of killing a man during a robbery; 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.
The 5 released inmates are supposed to check in with law enforcement every 24 hours while the legality of their pardons is determined, but so far none of them have done so. Their current whereabouts are unknown, and there are serious questions about whether they will surface and potentially have to finish their life sentences.
Barbour’s decision to grant the pardons caused an immediate uproar among Mississippi citizens, conservative bloggers, and the state’s Attorney General, who believes that Barbour illegally released 4 convicted murderers into an unsuspecting public.
Jim Hood, Mississippi’s Democratic Attorney General, is considering ordering a nationwide manhunt for the missing former inmates. He also has had some harsh words about Barbour’s actions.
“He’s tried to rule the state like Boss Hogg and he didn’t think the law applied to him,” Mississippi’s Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood told CNN Wednesday. “This isn’t a partisan issue. Either you followed the constitution or you didn’t.” Hood now says that he’s considering launching a nationwide manhunt for the missing former inmates.
Barbour defended the pardons by noting that 189 of the inmates had already completed their incarcerations, and arguing that he was acting in the name of clemency.
“The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote. My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 percent of the cases,” Barbour said in a statement on Wednesday.
He added on Friday that he is “very comfortable and totally at peace” with his decision.
The scandal has managed to get even worse for Barbour, however. Jamie and Gladys Scott are two sisters who had served nearly 16 years of the life sentences that they received for their roles in a robbery that netted all of $11. The sisters were released last January on the condition that Gladys donate her Kidney to Jamie (who suffers from kidney failure,) but they were not included among the over 200 inmates who received pardons.
After they learned of Barbour’s decision, the sisters and their lawyer decided on Friday to go on the offensive against the former governor.
“It is very contradictory to me … that you got people accused of killing people, burning their bodies and all that kind of stuff, killing pregnant people, who are walking free without any restrictions and the Scott sisters don’t have that kind of freedom,” their lawyer Chokwe Lumumba told the AP on Thursday.
“I have to report to the Mississippi Department of Corrections for the rest of my life for a crime I didn’t commit. I guess if I had been a murderer, he would have pardoned me,” Gladys Scott said in the same interview.
The controversy more or less ensures that Barbour’s political career is over, but it may also have less obvious — if equally critical — implications. Barbour is a powerful lobbyist and the former head of the RNC and the Republican Governors Association; in other words, he is the consummate Republican insider. Bad press for him may become bad press for the party.
Additionally, Barbour is a top fundraiser for Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS Super PAC, which is expected to play a large role in the 2012 election. If Barbour becomes politically radioactive, it could conceivably limit the group’s influence in the upcoming campaign.
This pardon scandal does have one silver lining for Barbour: in retrospect, his decision to not run for president in 2012 certainly seems like a wise one.