In 2008, after his first term, Governor Haley Barbour quietly granted clemency to five convicted murderers. All five participated in a long-established prison trusty program at the Governor’s Mansion.
Oh, there was some push back in the Legislature. Two bills introduced in 2009 would have prohibited convicted murderers from serving as trusties at the Mansion. Both bills died in committee as did other measures to restrict the Governor’s power to pardon.
Which leads to the current hullabaloo. What was hardly any news in 2008 erupted into national headlines in 2012.
What’s different? After all, the murders committed by earlier Mansion trusties where just as heinous as those committed by latter.
Was it the inclusion of Jackson socialite Karen Irby who had just started serving her 18 year sentence for DUI manslaughter?
Was it Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s quick publication of the list this go-round?
Or, was it the large number involved?
“This is the longest state governor pardon list I’ve looked at in memory,” Mississippi College School of Law professor Matt Steffey said.
Of the 215 who received some form of clemency, 189 had already been freed from prison. Barbour “gave them a clean record so they can qualify for a job or apply for a professional license or join the military.” Another 13 were chronically ill patients whose sentences were suspended. They remain under Department of Corrections supervision and can be re-jailed if they commit future offenses. Three, including Irby, got conditional clemency. They remain under supervision for a limited time.
Then there were the five Mansion trusties. That leaves five pardons the Governor didn’t particularly justify, other than saying: “Marsha and I are evangelical Christians – Presbyterians. Christianity teaches us forgiveness and second chances. I believe in second chances, and I try hard to be forgiving.”
In between term ends, Barbour appeared less forgiving. In 2007, he blessed statutory maximum sentences for felons using guns in the commission of a crime. He criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for delaying an execution, saying “The real inhumanity in this case is that the life of an innocent woman…was taken 20 years ago, and now justice has been delayed again.”
In 2010 he denied a petition for clemency, saying, “I will not substitute my judgment for that of the courts, which have considered the matter.” Barbour also allowed a number of executions to occur on his watch.
However, in 2010 he did suspend sentences for two sisters when one offered to donate a kidney to get her sister off dialysis.
Despite the inconsistency, Barbour said, “I’m very comfortable and totally at peace with these pardons.”
Mississippians need to prayerfully decide if they can be at peace with governors having broad power to grant such pardons.