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Huckabee cut prison sentence for 163 inmates

Some reoffended after release by Seth Blomeley | December 1, 2009 at 5:32 a.m.

— Former Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted the sentences of 163 prisoners, including 12 murderers, in his 10 1 /2 years as governor.

Maurice Clemmons received clemency from Huckabee while in prison for an aggravated robbery conviction in Pulaski County.

On Monday, Clemmons was being sought by authorities in the fatal shootings of four police officers in Washington state.

Other inmates Huckabee eyed for early release got into trouble after gaining freedom.

Wayne DuMond, a convicted rapist of a Forrest City cheerleader, later wasfound guilty of murder in Missouri. Huckabee initially intended to commute DuMond’s sentence but later changed his mind. He wrote a letter to DuMond saying he favored his release through parole instead.

During his 2002 re-election campaign, Huckabee declined to givefull explanations for granting his clemencies.

“The ultimate evaluation of my life will be made by a God who will look at every breath I took from birth to death, and I want him to evaluate my life by the totality of it, not by any one moment,” said the former Baptist pastor.

Prosecutors and victims often spoke against Huckabee’s clemency practices.

Larry Jegley, prosecuting attorney for the 6th Judicial District (Perry and Pulaski counties), regularly objected to the clemencies, particularly those for violent offenders, and to Huckabee’s lack of explanation.

“We the people have a right to an accounting from a governor when he chooses to go contrary to a [jury’s] decision and pardon a violent offender or commute a well-deserved punishment,” Jegley said in 2004. “We have a right to be heard, and yet we have been ignored.”

Sometimes Huckabee connected clemency cases to his religious views. In 1999, he commuted the death sentence of Bobby Ray Fretwell, changing his punishment to life imprisonment without parole for the murder of an elderly man in Van Buren County.

“If justice didn’t work for him [Fretwell], how could I say it worked for anybody?” Huckabee said in a speech in 2002. “And I was reminded of what Jesus said, ‘Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me.’”

In defending his clemencies, he sometimes cited prison overcrowding and said that drug crimes often resulted in overlong sentences.

Huckabee once said he would look more kindly on clemency requests from inmates who had public defenders or who had accomplices who got lesser sentences.

Commuting a sentence is one form of the power of executive clemency granted to occupants of the office of governor in Article 6, Section 18, of the Arkansas Constitution.

Clemency also may take the form of a pardon. This is usually given to people who have already served their sentences but seek restoration oftheir right to own firearms or want a clean record to help them apply for a job.

Probably the most widely noted pardon by Huckabee was for Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards in 2006. Richards had gotten a reckless driving ticket in Fordyce in 1975.

Huckabee said the arrest had given Richards a “marred” image of Arkansas, which a Richards publicist later denied.

In 2004, Eugene Fields, a developer from Van Buren, received a sentence-cut in 2004 from Huckabee for driving while intoxicated. Two years later, Fields was arrested on a fresh DWI charge.

Teresa Belew, director of Arkansas Mothers Against Drunk Driving, publicly complained about Huckabee’s clemency.

“We are deeply disturbed at the message this sends to those who faithfully enforce, prosecute, adjudicate, serve on juries and suffer the consequences of drunk driving offenders,” Belew said at the time.

A few days later, Huckabee sent her a letter, suggesting that MADD was trying to “fan the flames of controversy that have been stirred in this case by the unusual curiosity of certain media members.”

Another beneficiary of a Huckabee clemency was Wade Stewart, who was sentenced to life in prison for a murder in 1973. Stewart had 35 disciplinary marks on his prison record, including for battery, possession of gambling paraphernalia, and destroying state property.He was released after Huckabee in 2004 made him eligible for parole.

“We citizens have a right to expect [inmates] to be on their best behavior,” Jegley said at the time of Stewart’s clemency. “If they are not, that says something about their prospects when they get out.”

Last year, Stewart received four years in prison on a weapons charge in North Little Rock. He had been on parole for a felony theft conviction for stealing his mother’s TV and stereo.

Public discontent with Huckabee’s clemencies peaked in 2004.

One of his clemencies that year was for John Henry Claiborne, a Little Rock man serving a 100-year sentence for robbing a pair of elderly neighbors.

The Rev. Charles Williams, pastor of a Little Rock church, wrote a letter to the governor on the inmate’s behalf.

“Everybody knows that Mike Huckabee makes up his mind what to do by what God tells him to do,” Williams said later.

Also that year, Huckabee revealed plans to give clemency to Dennis Lewis, who fatally shot a store owner during a robbery in Washington County, and to Glen Martin Green, who killed a pregnant woman in Lonoke County by running her over with his car after beating her with martialarts fighting sticks.

The planned clemency for the Lonoke killing was based on input from the Rev. Johnny Jackson, a former Baptist minister connected to the governor. He told Huckabee that the killer had found God and didn’t mean to kill the woman.

Huckabee reversed himself on those two cases and afterward granted fewer clemencies for violent offenders.

His departure from office has resulted in a decline in the number of executive clemencies granted in Arkansas. In January 2007, Gov. Mike Beebe succeeded Huckabee. Since then, Beebe has commuted one sentence.

Front Section, Pages 6 on 12/01/2009

Print Headline: Huckabee cut prison sentence for 163 inmates


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