EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON — A Mississippi judge has temporarily blocked the release of 21 inmates who’d been given pardons or medical release by Republican Haley Barbour in one of his final acts as governor.
Circuit Judge Tomie Green issued an injunction late Wednesday at the request of Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.
Hood said he believes Barbour might’ve violated the state constitution by pardoning some inmates who failed to give sufficient public notice that they were seeking to have their records cleared.
Barbour said in a statement Wednesday, a day after leaving office, that he believes people have misunderstood why he gave reprieves to more than 200 inmates. Most received full pardons, while others received suspended sentences because of medical conditions.
“The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote,” Barbour said. “My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 percent of the cases.”
Section 124 of the Mississippi Constitution says any inmate seeking a pardon must publish notice about his intentions. Before the governor can grant it, the notice must appear 30 days in a newspaper in or near the county where the person was convicted.
Hood said it’s not clear whether all the inmates pardoned by Barbour met the publication requirement, and that he believes it’s likely that some did not.
“It’s unfortunate Gov. Barbour didn’t read the constitution,” Hood said Wednesday.
Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Suzanne Singletary told The Associated Press that five inmates let out over the weekend are the only ones on Barbour’s list who had been released as of Wednesday evening. She said about 21 inmates who received pardons or early release were still waiting to get out. Processing paperwork generally takes several days because, among other things, the department has to give victims 48 hours’ notice before an inmate is released.
Neither Barbour spokeswoman Laura Hipp nor Barbour’s lead staff attorney, Amanda Jones Tollison, responded to questions about whether Barbour’s staff verified that pardoned inmates had met the publication requirement.
Each of the five inmates released this past weekend had worked as a trusty at the Governor’s Mansion. They are David Gatlin, convicted of killing his estranged wife in 1993; Joseph Ozment, convicted in 1994 of killing a man during a robbery; Anthony McCray, convicted in 2001 of killing his wife; Charles Hooker, sentenced to life in 1992 for murder; and Nathan Kern, sentenced to life in 1982 for burglary after at least two prior convictions.
Relatives of the killers’ victims said they were outraged by the release, and some said they’re worried for their own safety.