Readers jumped all over me when I sided in a November post with Joe Lieberman's assertion that the "...murderous outburst of Major Nidal Hasan was an unambiguous act of terrorism" (my words, not his). I've not changed that view. Now, I believe we should candidly look at whether former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an early front runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, is getting a raw deal for granting clemency to the man who murdered four Lakewood, Washington cops this Thanksgiving weekend.
I spent five hours in Seattle's KOMO-TV studio on Tuesday, watching and commenting on coverage of the memorial service for Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronnie Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards. The Tacoma Dome, not far from where the cops were gunned down, was filled to capacity--23,000--with police officers from New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Canada (over 1,000 red-uniformed Mounties), even Australia in attendance. We heard from friends and co-workers, and from the three young children of Greg Richards. The kids described their dad, a rock drummer in his spare time, and their life with him in loving detail. The picture that emerged of all four slain officers was that of people who loved their work, their families, and their community.
Throughout that long afternoon in the (relative) warmth of a TV studio (64 vs. 20 degrees outside the Tacoma Dome where the overflow crowd huddled), I found myself reflecting, once again, on a "system" that would allow Maurice Clemmons the freedom to assassinate four decent human beings. Huckabee's the one player in the system with a "name." Is he being singled out because of that?
Clemmons was first convicted in 1989. I'd like to think Bill Clinton, were he then the governor would have taken into account the following: black, poor, in his mid-teens, Clemmons was found guilty of burglary and robbery and sentenced to a whopping 108 years in prison. Would a white, well-heeled (and well-defended) kid from the suburbs have received a similar sentence? It's hard to imagine.
Moreover, throughout the country but especially in the South (think Tulia, TX), we've seen proof of police and prosecutorial incompetence and misconduct -- evidence planted or tampered with, confessions coerced, lies told in reports and on the stand, convictions based on false statements of jailhouse snitches. It's sensible and essential for a state's highest elected official to use his or her authority to satisfy fundamental questions of fairness and accuracy in the criminal justice system. And to use tools at his or her disposal to remedy wrongs and render justice.
In 2000, Republican governor George Ryan went so far as to suspend all executions in the state of Illinois when evidence of wrongful convictions mounted and it became clear that the state was sentencing innocent people to death row. (Ryan himself is serving six and a half years for convictions on assorted corruption charges.)
So, did Huckabee do the right thing in granting clemency to Maurice Clemmons? He certainly thinks so. In a recent Creators Syndicate column, the former governor describes Clemmons' 108-year sentence as "dramatically outside the norm for sentencing for the crimes he committed and the age at which he committed them." The state's Post Prison Transfer Board (PPTB) unanimously recommended the sentence be commuted. By then, Clemmons had served 11 years of the original sentence. Huckabee claims that, "Despite news reports, no objections were raised during the 30-day response period for this case."
Huckabee's assertion that no one fought the clemency does not sit well with prosecuting attorney for Pulaski County, Larry Jegley. When informed of the Lakewood police officer slayings, he said, "This is the day I've been dreading for a long time." Jegley, furious at Huckabee, claimed his office was never informed of the pending clemency decision and suggested it was time for the former governor to "man up" and take his share of the heat for the deaths of the Lakewood officers.
Huckabee's apologia rings disingenuous when he asserts that "a governor doesn't initiate a parole--the...PPTB does so after it conducts a thorough review of an inmate's file and request. The board then makes a recommendation to the governor, who decides to grant or deny it." He goes on to say, "An overwhelming majority of the time, I denied the requests. When I did grant them, it was based on the recommendations of all five of the members of the PPTB."
Huckabee conveniently sidesteps the fact that it's the governor who appoints each member of the PPTB.
Assuming sitting governors name to such state boards constituents of like minds, it's logical to assume Huckabee stacked the PPTB with Arkansans whose political--and religious--views comport with his own. Further, it's not unreasonable to question whether a sitting governor influences decisions of the boards he appoints.
That certainly seems to be the case here. Recall Wayne DuMond. Two members of the parole board reported that Huckabee, almost immediately after assuming office, and after having during his campaign insistently questioned DuMond's conviction, pressured them to "show mercy" to a man who'd been convicted of the rape of a teenager. Mercy was shown, and DuMond, despite several appeal letters from some of his other victims, was released. Shortly thereafter he raped and killed at least one more victim. (For additional examples of Huckabee's propensity for freeing hardened criminals check out Debra Saunders' recent comments. I share her support of pardons and paroles...mostly for nonviolent drug offenders.)
Huckabee, a Baptist preacher was taught to believe that "Christ is in each of us." With a heart open to Christian pleas for forgiveness, he oversaw the pardoning or reduced sentences of
1,033 inmates, some of them demonstrably dangerous and unrepentant, during his ten and a half years as governor. Governors Bill Clinton, Frank White, and Jim Guy Tucker granted a total of 507 clemencies in seventeen and a half years.
In his appeal letter, Maurice Clemmons beseeched Huckabee to show him some compassion, especially since he had turned his life around following a visit from the "angel of death" who had "taken away my dear sweet mother." The governor heard that. Was he also listening when his own prison staff reported that Clemmons had broken prison rules more than 24 times, sometimes violently?
Huckabee's right. Certain people in Arkansas and Washington have some explaining to do. The thief, child-rapist, cop-killer Clemmons had chalked up since his first release in 2000 a virtually uninterrupted record of wrongdoing followed by arrest followed by conviction followed by incarceration followed by parole followed by more wrongdoing... As government and corporate leaders are fond of saying, "mistakes were made," in both states.
But Mike Huckabee, the one man who could have kept Maurice Clemmons, Wayne DuMond, and lord knows how many other dangerous people behind bars, was too busy playing God.