Mississippi's attorney general has convinced a state judge to block 203 pardons handed out by Governor Haley Barbour on his last day in office, even though some of those violent criminals had already been released from jail, including four convicted murderers who had been serving life sentences. After outrage from victims and their families, all the pardons will be re-examined based on a technicality. Attorney General Jim Hood claims Barbour maybe have violated the state constitution by failing to provide public notice that the convicts were being considered for clemency.
The huge number of those granted pardons was more than double the total number of pardons issued by the state since 1988. Many of those were criminals were convicted of violent crimes, including murder and rape, and at least seven committed sex-related crimes. Some are calling the actions a black eye for the state and one that will tarnish the popular ex-governor's legacy.
Barbour defended his actions on Wednesday by pointing out that 90% of those receiving pardons were already out of prison. However, the pardons don't just let people out of jail; they erase criminal records. That gives the ex-convict a better shot at finding employment, but also restores full citizenship rights, including the right to own a gun. Most will not even be monitored by parole officers and those convicted of sex crimes will not have to register with the state.
Eight of the pardoned criminals worked at the Governor's mansion as part of a "trustee" program that allows convicted felons to live and work on the grounds while serving out their sentence, suggesting that their personal contact with the Governor contributed to their release. On CNN last night, Hood (who is a Democrat; Barbour is a Republican) compared Barbour to Boss Hog, the corrupt Southern villain from the The Dukes of Hazzard.
Of the 26 prisoners set to be released, five were already processed and let go. The other 21 are now on hold, pending a review of the cases. Among the most controversial pardons was that of David Gatlin, who shot his wife, Tammy, in 1993 while she was holding their two-month-old son, then shot another man in the eye and left him for dead. Tammy Gatlin's relatives (pictured above) were among those who marched to the state capitol on Wednesday to protest and say that they're worried he might come after them. Gatlin's last request for parole was rejected just three weeks ago. Another woman, "socialite" Karen Irby, will serve just eight months of an 18-year sentence for killing two doctors in a drunk driving accident. If Barbour is found to have violated the constitution and the pardons voided, the five released prisoners will have to return to jail.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.