An outgoing politician has the unique opportunity to use his final days and months in office to accomplish good for his constituents without fear or worry of upsetting the political establishment. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour elected to use that opportunity to free murderers and rapists, releasing a wave of criminals back into the communities he led to recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In the last acts of an eight-year governorship considered by most to be a success, largely because of his Katrina response, Barbour issued full and unconditional pardons to 193 convicted criminals. Still more received some other form of clemency, such as an early release from prison. Add the full and unconditional pardons from earlier in his term and Barbour is responsible for 226 criminals being released, many having their record wiped clean of any wrongdoing.
Among those 226 names are 45 people who were convicted of killing a man, woman, or child (21 were convicted murderers, 24 were found guilty of lesser offenses, like manslaughter). Eight of these worked at the Governor’s Mansion while incarcerated. One of them, David Gatlin, was serving a life sentence after he shot and killed his estranged wife as she held their two-month old child. He shot another man in the head during the same incident.
Gatlin left the baby lying on top of his mother’s body.
David Gatlin is now free, and there is no trace of the murder on his record, thanks to Gov. Barbour.
There are others. Victor Collins beat his girlfriend to death. Anthony McCray, another of the inmates who worked at the Governor’s Mansion, shot and killed his wife after a dispute at a restaurant.
Both were found guilty in a criminal proceeding. Both were sentenced through the judicial system. Both have been absolved by one-page documents with Haley Barbour’s signature of approval. Just like literally hundreds of others.
Seven more pardoned criminals were convicted of sexual crimes. Among them, Buster Caldwell, convicted of rape and armed robbery, received a full and unconditional pardon from Gov. Barbour. Eldridge Dean Bonds, convicted of forcible sexual battery, received a full and unconditional pardon from Gov. Barbour. Michael Clinton Armstrong, convicted of attempted enticement of a child for sexual purposes, received a full and unconditional pardon from Gov. Barbour. Leton Cellious Upchurch, convicted of attempted enticement of a child for prostitution, received a full and unconditional pardon from Gov. Barbour.
Barry James Sanderson, Jr. received a full and unconditional pardon from Gov. Barbour for kidnapping. Countless other criminals convicted of burglary, armed robbery, arson, selling of a controlled substance and a plethora of other offenses received the governor’s good graces on his way out of office.
And then there is the interesting pardon of Clinton Jason Moffitt, convicted of conspiracy to commit voter fraud in connection with a 2007 Benton County election in which Supervisor Tate King, a Democrat, was found to have paid citizens in exchange for votes.
Good to see Gov. Barbour not getting caught up in party allegiance when it comes to letting criminals off the hook.
Attorney General Jim Hood, the lone Democrat holding statewide office, held a press conference Wednesday announcing his intentions to battle the pardons, many of which he claimed violated the state constitution, which requires all petitions for clemency be published 30 days prior to the governor taking action. Early reviews find that many of the pardoned who now find themselves free published no such petition.
Late Wednesday night, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green issued an injunction preventing the release of any more criminals pardoned by Barbour until the constitutional issues raised by Hood were evaluated.
News of Barbour’s pardons spread around the world Wednesday. From The New York Times, to CNN, to a detailed feature from the London-based Daily Mail. According to Google News, some 300 sources worldwide were covering the story by Wednesday night. In fact, as news of Green’s injunction broke, the story took up featured space on FoxNews.com and CNN.com.
Barbour responded on Wednesday, claiming that 90% of the names on the list had already served their sentences or received parole, and his clemency was to help them obtain jobs and again receive the right to vote (actually, “to hunt and vote” was the ill-conceived prioritization the former governor used in his statement).
The sheer number of pardons issued by Barbour was contextualized by The New York Times, which reported that Mississippi’s three previous governors – Ronnie Musgrove, Kirk Fordice, and Ray Mabus – issued a combined 18 full and unconditional pardons. Musgrove’s singular pardon was to a man convicted of marijuana possession.
This story will continue to unfold. Members of the state legislature plan to introduce bills to limit executive clemency power – a constitutional amendment that would eventually require a vote of the people. Hood will continue to use the resources of the already-strapped Attorney General’s office to fight to uphold prosecutions long since won.
Barbour, meanwhile, will leave Mississippi to return to his Washington, D.C. lobbying firm. But he leaves a legacy severely tarnished by an act of moral reprehensibility. One that, for the sake of his conscience, he should pray never results in another innocent soul being harmed. For today, recovering families in Mississippi experience fear anew – the governor has ensured the murderers and rapists that shattered their lives will be able to “hunt” again.