Wayne DuMond Case: Is Huckabee Responsible?

Yes, says the mother of Carol Sue Shields, a 17-year-old woman murdered by paroled Arkansas murderer Wayne DuMond in 2000. In this version of the story, Huckabee commuted the sentence of, and convinced the state parole board to parole DuMond; DuMond raped and murdered again; Huckabee bears some responsibility.

The emotional links are fairly solid, and it's hard to say otherwise to a grieving mother. But the logic chain suggests a more complicated, tiered regime of blame.

First, note that the state parole board -- all seven members of whom were appointed by Democrats -- agreed with Huckabee's recommendation that DuMond be freed. Some said they felt pressured, but it is hard to argue that Huckabee was responsible for nefariously swaying the minds of seven rational adults. Huckabee is persuasive, but the board's members acted of their own accord.

Clearly, Huckabee misjudged the character of DuMond. Or maybe he didn't.

DuMond claimed he had found God; he was a model prisoner; he gave the state no reason to believe that the prison experience wasn't reforming; there weren't any signs that DuMond had any intention of offending again.

What Huckabee misjudged is his ability to judge the character of a convicted murderer and rapists, a lapse out of a character for a pastor who believes in the sinful nature of an -- or a lapse in character for a pastor who believes in redemption. DuMond may have been predisposed to violence, or some external event had a triggering effect on his violent behavior. In any event, we're talking here about criminology and psychology, domains that Huckabee had no expertise in, and domains that, arguably, politicians ought to keep at brain's length.

Yes, Arkansans elected Huckabee to exercise his judgment. In that state, though, the governor cannot determine whether a prisoner is elgible for parole. He can, however, commute a sentence to make a prisoner eligible for parole. But Huckabee did not grand clemency to DuMond: A Democratic governor, in fact, made DuMond parole eligible.

Here is how Huckabee describes the fateful meeting he had with the parole board:

I made a visit to the parole board early in my tenure as a governor at the request of chairman, because you gotta remember, every member of that parole board had been appointed by Jim Guy Tucker or Bill Clinton. Not one of them appointed by me. I’m a new Republican governor, they’d never seen one. I think they had real concern on how to interrelate or how to relate to me. And what kind of attitude I had in general to crime, attitude, parole, etc. So at their invitation, I went to the meeting; someone brought up this case. Frankly, it was simply part of a broader discussion; I did not ask them to do anything. I did indicate it was sitting at my desk; and I was giving thought to it. But this was probably in, I’m thinking maybe September or October when that meeting was held; I can’t remember exactly. The parole board, the following year, early 97 approved his parole plan after I had denied the further commutation.

Even if this account is false -- even if Huckabee bowled over the Democratically-appointed members of the parole board, it still doesn't follow that Huckabee is responsible for their decision.

The following argument might be straw-man-ic -- conservatives believe that criminals are mostly responsible for their crimes -- but conservative who criticize Huckabee might want to make sure they apportion blame properly.

Another straw-manic argument: something like this seems to have happened to every candidate in this race with executive experience ... Huckabee probably favored dozens of parole grants without further incident. None of that comforts the families of the victims, but it ought to be noted, at least.

A third straw-man-ic argument: while he awaiting trial for his original murder, two men broke into DuMond's home, raped him, beat him up, and castrated him. The police in that county didn't try to find these offenders. The county, in fact, seemed to be thrilled with the example of vigilante justice. The spectacle offended many Arkansans, including Huckabee, and including some of his political opponents.

Huckabee's version of the DuMond case leaves out one important caveat. Huckabee never commuted DuMond's sentence, it's true. But that's because the board of parole pre-empted his decision, just four days before he had to finalize it. Three months earlier, Huckabee announced his intention to commute DuMond's sentence to time served. The parole board's decision allowed him to avoid officially commuting the sentence. So technically, Huckabee never commutated squat. But he wanted to.

The story has other complexities: was Huckabee's decision to speak about the DuMond case to the parole board unusual? Did Huckabee personally lobby members of the board to parole DuMond? Did the board members fear the loss of their appointed positions if they failed to accede to the governor's wishes? Was Huckabee insensitive to the family of the original murder victim?

Unanswered, as of yet.

So is Huckabee responsible? If so, how responsible is he? What do you think?