Maurice Clemmons, the alleged gunman sought in the recent slaying of four Seattle-area police officers, was released from a Washington jail just six days ago, but it’s his prior release from an Arkansas prison that is returning in news accounts to haunt the then-governor of the state, Mike Huckabee.
“The political future of former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee could be damaged by his role in commuting the sentence of a man who is now suspected of killing four police officers in Washington state,” writes Nicholas Johnston of Bloomberg News.
“Back then, Gov. Huckabee granted clemency to a disturbing number of people, including a man named Maurice Clemmons who should have never been let out,” said Larry Jegley, prosecuting attorney for Arkansas’ Pulaski County. “This is the day I’ve been dreading for a long time.”
And this isn’t the first time Huckabee has been criticized for shortening prison terms.
During the 2008 presidential race, Huckabee’s rival in seeking the Oval Office, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, released a television ad in the early battleground state of Iowa pointing fingers at Huckabee’s record.
“Mike Huckabee? He granted 1,033 pardons and commutations, including 12 convicted murderers,” the advertisement’s announcer toned. “Huckabee granted more clemencies than the previous three governors combined.”
The advertisement, called “Choice: Judgment,” can be seen below:
Dozens of news outlets have also recalled the controversy surrounding Huckabee’s role in the 1999 release of convicted rapist Wayne DuMond, who went on to offend again less than a year later, raping and murdering a Missouri woman.
During the presidential campaign, Huckabee defended the number of clemencies his office issued, explaining most of them were granted to nonviolent offenders who couldn’t get jobs because of their criminal record.
“We had multiple cases where you had a 35-year-old single mom trying to get a job,” Huckabee told New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor. “She couldn’t get hired because when she was 18, she wrote a hot check. … Does anybody think we should punish that person for the rest of her life and keep her out of the workforce? I’ve never found a person who’s said, ‘Gosh, yes.'”
Regarding DuMond, Huckabee repeatedly explained that he actually denied the rapist commutation, but admitted that he had supported DuMond’s release.
“My mistake, and it is one I have to live with, is I supported the parole board’s decision, but I didn’t make the decision,” Huckabee told Monitor reporters.
In a statement released about the Washington cop killings, Huckabee again explained the alleged offender’s freedom was the parole board’s decision and deflected implications that he’s to blame for the prisoner’s release:
“Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State,” writes the press team on the governor’s Huck PAC website. “He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990, this commutation made him parole eligible and he was then paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time. He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him. It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state.”
In 2000, Huckabee commuted Clemmons’ 95-year sentence, citing the man’s youth – he was 17 at the time of his conviction – as reason for reducing the sentence, thus making Clemmons eligible for parole.
Clemmons was then granted parole, returned to prison for violating parole, released again, jailed and released in Washington, then jailed most recently on child-rape charges, before being released just six days ago on bail. He is now being hunted for the killing of four Lakewood, Wash., police officers.
The Seattle Times reports Clemmons’ criminal history includes five felony convictions in Arkansas and at least eight felony charges in Washington.
And while it’s true that several authorities neglected to keep the repeat offender behind bars, recent headlines have been quick to point out that were it not for the clemency Huckabee granted in 2000, Clemmons would still be serving a 95-year sentence.
On Fox News Radio today, Huckabee defended himself against the headlines:
“If I could’ve known nine years ago, looked into the future, would I have acted favorably upon the parole board’s recommendation?” Huckabee said. “Of course not.”
Responding to those questioning the ramifications of the Clemmons fiasco on his future aspirations, Huckabee added, “Politics is the last thing on my mind. It should be the last thing on anybody’s mind. To me it’s repulsive that people are trying to bring something like that up in the midst of what ought to be a concern for these officers’ families.
“The criminal justice is far from perfect, and in this case it failed miserably on all sides,” he concluded.
The four officers killed were Lakewood Police Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, and Officers Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards, 42.
Officials in Washington have not publicly explained why a prisoner facing multiple felony charges was able to post bail and be released from jail again.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire told KOMO Radio the deaths are shocking – a “tragedy beyond anybody’s comprehension.”