Update: 12/01 1:28 P.M.: Just got off the phone with former Huckabee Presidential Campaign Manager Chip Saltsman. I asked him whether he thought the criticism the Governor is taking for the Clemmons commutation is fair.
“The Governor is a very spiritual person, and this hits him hard. It’s very personal to him,” he said. “It is a lot easier to blame the one guy in the process you know. But it’s a complicated and convoluted system in the state of Arkansas. The five members of the parole board, several judges, the attorney general of the state, all had the opportunity to weigh in on this decision and there were no red flags.”
I also asked Saltsman whether the controversy would figure into Huckabee’s decision on another Presidential run in 2012:
“I don’t think we know how it’s going to play out,” he said. “It’s a very personal decision. Very few people in the world know what it’s like to put yourself in that bubble. If he decides to run again, he won’t be an asterisk. He understands that every decision he’s ever made is going to be part of his presidential campaign. People are going to be uber-sensitive to everything he’s ever done or will do.”
Update: 12/01 12:33 P.M.: The AP looks at Huckabee’s record use of his clemency powers as Arkansas Governor:
“Clemmons was among 1,033 people who were pardoned or had their sentences reduced during Huckabee’s 10 1/2 years as governor. Bill Clinton, Frank White and Jim Guy Tucker granted 507 clemencies in the 17 1/2 years they served. Beebe, Huckabee’s Democratic successor, has issued 273 commutations and pardons since taking office in January 2007 — all but one of them were pardons after the completion of the inmates’ prison terms.”
Update: 12/01 8:15 A.M.: Huckabee took to the airwaves last night to defend his commutation of Maurice Clemmons’ sentence. In the friendly and familiar confines of Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News studio, the former Arkansas governor didn’t stray too far from the content of the statement released by HuckPAC on Monday, owning up to his role in making Clemmons parole eligible, but spreading ultimate responsibility for the convict’s release to sloppy prosecutors, lenient judges, and compassionate parole boards.
“If I could’ve known nine years ago that this guy was capable of something of this nature, obviously I would’ve never granted the commutation,” Huckabee told O’Reilly. “It’s sickening.”
Watch it here:
Update: 12/01 7:45 A.M.: Seattle police reportedly shot and killed Maurice Clemmons early Tuesday morning, after authorities zeroed in on his location by aggressively questioning friends and family. Clemmons had apparently sustained an earlier gunshot wound to his torso, inflicted by one of the officers he is believed to have murdered Sunday.
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Update: 11/30 4:43 P.M.: The Seattle Times has Clemmons’ clemency documents up, including lengthy excerpts from a letter Clemmons wrote to then-Governor Huckabee, claiming that he was a changed man:
“I succumbed to the peer pressure and the need I had to be accepted by other youth in my new environment and fell in with the wrong crowd and thus began a seven (7) month crime spree which led me to prison,” Clemmons wrote in his application to Huckabee.
Clemmons said he came from “a very good Christian family” and “was raised much better than my actions speak (I’m still ashamed to this day for the shame my stupid involvement in these crimes brought to my family name.),” he wrote.
“Where once stood a young (16) year old misguided fool, who’s (sic) own life he was unable to rule. Now stands a 27 year old man, who has learned through ‘the school of hard knocks’ to appreciate and respect the rights of others. And who has in the midst of the harsh reality of prison life developed the necessary skills to stand along (sic) and not follow a multitude of do evil, as I did as a 16 year old child.”
The decision to commute and eventually release Clemmons had the support of Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Marion Humphry, who like Huckabee cited the convict’s young age at the time of conviction, and who, also like Huckabee, is an ordained minister. Naturally, Humphry now wishes things had gone differently:
“It would be the furthest thing from my mind that he would go out and kill four police officers, if in fact he did,” Humphrey said. “Certainly if that’s true, I would much rather that he’d stayed in prison… my heart goes out to the officers’ families.”
There is certainly enough blame to go around. Another Seattle paper is reporting that in the days before Clemmons’ release from a Washington State prison, where he was being held on child rape charges, the state of Arkansas removed a bail restriction that would have kept Clemmons behind bars.
Update: 11/30 3:29 P.M.: This isn’t the first time Huckabee’s use of clemency has led to tragic consequences. In 1996 and 1997, Huckabee’s administration apparently went above and beyond standard operating procedure (and perhaps legality) in securing the parole of convicted rapist Wayne DuMond, who was finally released in 1999. DuMond raped and murdered a Missouri woman shortly thereafter.
In both the DuMond and Clemmons cases, Huckabee did not offer direct pardons, but rather worked directly and indirectly through Arkansas’s Post Prison Transfer Board (parole board) to secure each prisoner’s release–buffering himself from popular outrage over the moves. In the latter case, Huckabee commuted Clemmons’ sentence to a length that would make him immediately eligible for parole. But the decision to release Clemmons three months after the commutation was, technically, the sole purview of the parole board.
Huckabee’s use of his clemency powers–in some instances without providing written explanations required under state law–and his use in the DuMond and Clemmons cases of what might be called “pocket pardons”, drew the ire of Arkansas prosecutors.
Update: 11/30 11:19 A.M.: According to the Times, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office has said that Clemmons was shot by one of the officers killed in yesterday’s carnage, and could very well have died of his wounds. Police have surrounded a Seattle house where Clemmons is believed to be holed-up, but do not know whether Clemmons is alive inside.
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The ambush and murder of four police officers in a suburban Seattle coffee shop on Sunday took a decidely political turn when it was discovered that the prime suspect in the killings, 37-year-old Maurice Clemmons, was once granted clemency by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
According to news accounts, in 2001 Huckabee commuted Clemmons’s 60-year sentence for a string of felony convictions after Clemmons had served just eleven years, despite protests from local prosecutors.
A statement released early this morning by Huck PAC, the former governor’s political action committee, cites “a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State” as at fault should Clemmons be found responsible for the police killings.
The clemency was granted in part because Clemmons was just seventeen at the time of his conviction. But within months of being released from an Arkansas jail, Clemmons was rearrested for parole violation. Three years later, he was released again, after an apparent procedural mistake led prosecutors to drop further charges that would have kept him incarcerated.
In Washington, Clemmons continued to run afoul of the law. At the time of the police killings, he was out on $30,000 bail on a charge of second-degree rape of a child.
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Kathryn has HuckPAC’s full statement here, and reaction from the Heritage Foundation’s criminal justice expert David Muhlhausen here. The victims of Clemmons’ murderous spree are remembered here.