For the eighth time in his two terms, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi pardoned a convicted murder this week, all of whom had worked at the governor’s mansion while serving their sentences as part of a special program for “well-behaved inmates.”
I’m one of those people who think governors and the president should use their authority to pardon more often, but it should be in cases of clear injustice. It does not appear that any of the men pardoned by Barbour were falsely convicted or had any doubt that they were guilty of the crimes they were accused of. In fact, Barbour refused to pardon Cory Maye, who was falsely convicted of killing a police officer in a case made famous by Friend of Dispatches Radley Balko. And as Balko noted in a Slate magazine piece in 2009, he refused to issue even a posthumous pardon for a black civil rights worker who was falsely convicted in 1960.
But of the 8 men Barbour has now pardoned, 5 of them killed their current or former wives or girlfriends. The latest one, David Glenn Gatlin, shot his wife in the head while she was holding their infant child, then shot a friend of hers as well. Balko wrote in 2009:
None of these men were pardoned because of concerns that they didn’t receive a fair trial or could be innocent. Instead, all five were enrolled in a prison trusty program that had them doing odd jobs around the Mississippi governor’s mansion. Responding to backlash when Barbour suspended Graham’s sentence, a spokesman for Barbour told the Free Press, “Historically, Governors have reviewed cases like that of Michael Graham, whose conduct as a prisoner earned him the right to work as a trusty at the Governor’s Mansion, where he has performed well and proven to be a diligent workman. The Governor is giving him a chance through an indefinite suspension of his sentence to start a new life away from Pascagoula and Jackson County, pending his future good behavior.”
Whether a man who shot his ex-wife point-blank with a shotgun deserves a chance to start a new life, and whether giving him that chance is a proper use of the clemency power is, I suppose, something GOP primary voters will mull over should Barbour decide to run for president in 2012. What’s perverse is that while Barbour’s been generously dispensing mercy to convicted murderers fortunate enough to get face time with him in Jackson, he’s been utterly uninterested in a crisis unfolding in his state’s criminal justice system, and the very real possibility that there are a number of innocent people at Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary, including on death row.
So while he doesn’t give a damn about the people who’ve been wrongly convicted in a state with one of the worst and most discriminatory criminal justice systems in the country, he does seem to have a soft spot for men who kill their wives — as long as they mow his lawn once in a while.