Just before he left office this week, outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) issued more than 200 pardons or sentence reductions — including more than a dozen to persons convicted of murder, manslaughter or other death-related crimes. And that has sparked outrage and calls for changes in the law that gives the state's governor such authority.
The list of Barbour's executive orders in the last four days before his departure from office on Tuesday is posted here.
Causing particular concern in the state are the pardons given to four convicted killers, who have now been released from prison. They are, as The Associated Press reports:
"David Gatlin, convicted of fatally shooting his estranged wife in 1993 as she held her baby and wounding her friend; 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."
Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports about one of the killer's crimes:
"David Gatlin ... was convicted of killing his estranged wife Tammy Gatlin in 1993 while she held their child. Tammy's friend Randy Walker was also in the house. Walker says Gatlin then turned the gun on him.
" 'When I came to about 45 minutes later, this 6 week old baby was still laying in a puddle of blood on top of its mother's body. This guy didn't care enough to ever remove the baby from the body of its mother and put it in a safe spot. That just kind of shows where this guy's head is.'
"When Walker got word Gatlin was being released, he says he questioned Barbour's judgement. At the very least, Walker says he deserves an explanation.
" 'How is my life and the life of Tammy's parents and family and the people in Mississippi, how are we better off today than we were Friday prior to this pardon? How are we better off? How did we serve the best interests of Mississippi? I feel like Governor Barbour single-handedly circumvented the entire justice system.' "
All told, according to The Clarion-Ledger, Barbour pardoned eight convicted killers. Each "had served part of their sentence in the Governor's Mansion as a trusty, a privilege awarded to well-behaved prisoners that allows them to live and work in the mansion. It is a custom in Mississippi for governors to pardon such trusties."
Now, "survivors and family members want to mandate that a governor has to hear from them before he lets killers out the door," the newspaper adds.
And, according to Mississippi Public Broadcasting:
"Democratic Representative David Baria says he's sponsored legislation the past two years that would limit a governor's ability to issue pardons. His bill would require public hearings in the community where the crime occurred to allow public comment. Baria says he plans on filing that bill again soon.
" 'And I'm also going to file a bill that would prevent capital murderers from enjoying trusty status at the Governor's Mansion because that appears to be a path to a pardon.' "
So far, according to the AP and other news outlets, Barbour and his spokesman have not commented on the pardons and have not responded to requests for comment.