A man with an extensive criminal past -- whose 95-year prison sentence was commuted in Arkansas nearly a decade ago by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee-- was being sought Sunday as a "person of interest" in a deadly ambush on four police officers who were gunned down inside a coffee shop.
Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer told reporters that Maurice Clemmons, 37, was one of several people investigators want to talk to and that he could not be called a suspect at this point.
In a news release, the sheriff's office said Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and theft. Clemmons was also recently was arrested and charged in Pierce County, Washington state for third-degree assault on a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child.
According to The Seattle Times, Clemmons was released from the Peirce County Jail last week, despite facing eight felony charges. Clemmons posted $15,000 with a bail bondsman, who paid the remainder of the man's $150,000 bail.
In 1989, Clemmons, then 17, was convicted in Little Rock for aggravated robbery. He was paroled in 2000 after then-Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons' 95-year prison sentence. Huckabee, who was criticized during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 for the number of clemencies and commutations he granted, cited Clemmons' age at the time of the sentence.
After his release from prison, Clemmons violated his parole and was returned to prison in July 2001. He was released March 18, 2004, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper
Huckabee has released a statement regarding Sunday's attack. He does not directly address his decision to grant Clemmons clemency (click here to read Huckabee's statement in its entirety):
Should [Clemmons] be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State. He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990, making him parole eligible and was paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time. He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him... Our thoughts and prayers are and should be with the families of those honorable, brave, and heroic police officers.
Officials in Washington state have not issued a statement explaining why a prisoner facing eight felony charges was able to post bail. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said she was "shocked and horrified" by the killings.
The four officers were with the 100-member police department of Lakewood, Wash. The city identified the victims as Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards 42.
Huckabee, who served as governor of Arkansas from 1996-2007, has a history of supporting pardons and commuting sentences of violent offenders. According to ABC News, Huckabee granted pardons and commutations to approximately 12 convicted murderers.
A study by the Arkansas Leader showed that between 1996 and 2004, Huckabee helped to free more Arkansas prisoners than were freed from all of Arkansas' six neighboring states--combined.
In 2004, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette concluded that "9 percent of the prisoners who benefited from Huckabee's clemencies ended up in prison again."
Huckabee's pardons and commuted sentences as governor earned him extra attention during his bid for the Republican nomination in the 2008 presidential race. In 2007, Huffington Post published documents that contradicted Huckabee's story about the release of convicted serial-rapist Wayne Dumond in 1999. After Dumond was released from prison, he raped and murdered a 39-year-old woman and allegedly raped and murdered a pregnant 23-year-old woman before he was arrested and returned to prison.
While on the campaign trail, Huckabee has claimed that he supported the 1999 release of Wayne Dumond because, at the time, he had no good reason to believe that the man represented a further threat to the public. Thanks to Huckabee's intervention, conducted in concert with a right-wing tabloid campaign on Dumond's behalf, Dumond was let out of prison 25 years before his sentence would have ended.
"There's nothing any of us could ever do," Huckabee said... "None of us could've predicted what [Dumond] could've done when he got out."
But the confidential files show that Huckabee was provided letters from several women who had been sexually assaulted by Dumond and who indeed predicted that he would rape again - and perhaps murder - if released.
[Click here to read more Huffington Post campaign coverage of Huckabee's pardons]
In 2007, ABC News reported on the role that Huckabee's religious beliefs may have played in his decisions to support early release of so many prisoners:
"None of the prosecutors were ever told why Huckabee felt compelled to have a hand in freeing so many prisoners, though all of them speculate that his deeply religious nature led to a strong belief in repentance and forgiveness. In some cases, prosecutors say, evangelical leaders attested that a prisoner had found Jesus and that seemed to influence the governor's thoughts."
Huckabee is currently the host of the Fox News show Huckabee. On Sunday the AP reported that Huckabee was leaning "slightly" against a run for the US presidency in 2012.
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