A Mississippi judge has halted the pardons of 21 of the more than 200 people granted clemency by former Gov. Haley Barbour. The state attorney general said the unprecedented clemencies may have violated the state’s constitution by not giving enough public notice about the pardons.
Among those released were a convicted rapist and several murderers, some of whom were serving life sentences. Barbour, a Republican, left office earlier this month. He was term-limited. His departure made way for the current governor, Phil Bryant, also a Republican.
Some of the inmates were granted medical or conditional releases. Reportedly, victims’ families are outraged over the releases because they were not given prior notice, with some fearing for their safety. The judge attempting to reverse the pardons sent notices to the released former inmates stating that their pardons could be challenged.
Explaining why he granted the pardons, Barbour said that the pardons are valid and that he granted clemency to former inmates who had been out of prison for years. Barbour added that he wanted to give people clean records so they could apply for jobs, get professional licenses or join the military.
He said only 26 people had been released from prison, while the remaining 189 were already free. Four of the inmates pardoned were convicted murderers who worked in the governor’s mansion cooking and cleaning. Barbour pointed to the fact that if any former inmates commit even a misdemeanor, they could find themselves back behind bars.
“The historic power of gubernatorial clemency by the governor to pardon felons is rooted in the Christian idea of giving second chances,” he said in a statement. “I’m not saying I’ll be perfect, that no one who received clemency will ever do anything wrong. I’m not infallible, and no one else is. But I’m very comfortable and totally at peace with these pardons, especially of the mansion inmates.”
Blacks make up 37 percent of Mississippi’s population and 66 percent of the state’s prison inmates.
Two people who did not receive pardons were Jamie and Gladys Scott, known as the Scott sisters. The two were released in January 2011 while they were serving life sentences for the 1996 robbery of two men that recovered a total of only $211. Many say the two didn’t commit crime. They were conditionally released two years ago because Jamie suffers from kidney failure and Gladys had to agree to give her kidney to her sister.
Granting a pardon to the Scott sisters would clear their record, along with giving them the right to vote.
Among those released was South African Azikiwe Kambule, who was convicted of manslaughter in 1996. His case, over his involvement in a shooting that took place during a carjacking, gained international attention because Kambule was a teenager at the time and prosecutors sought to give him the death penalty. However, Kambule could not be linked to the crime, according to his defense lawyers.