JACKSONVILLE, Florida (CNN) - Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Wednesday he was aware of Maurice Clemmons' long and violent criminal history when he commuted the then-teenager's 108-year prison sentence - but he couldn't have foreseen the deadly consequence of his act.
"You're looking at this nine years later and trying to make something as if I can look in to the future," Huckabee said, before a speech at Jacksonville University.
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"I wish I could have. Good Lord, I wish I had that power. I wish I could have done that. But I don't know how anyone can do it," he said.
Clemmons, 37, was fatally shot Tuesday by police in Seattle, Washington, after a two-day manhunt that began after he allegedly killed four officers at a coffee shop
Huckabee has come under fire because, as governor of Arkansas in 2000, he signed a clemency order for Clemmons. That made Clemmons eligible for parole, which was granted.
The prospective 2012 GOP presidential candidate said he was aware of the long string of crimes that had put Clemmons behind bars, but based his decision on the teenager's age: 16 at the time.
"I read a stack this thick," he said, holding his hands several inches apart. "I looked at the file. Every bit of it. And here was a case where a guy had been given 108 years. Now, if you think a 108-year sentence is an appropriate sentence for a 16-year-old for the crimes he committed, then you should run for governor of Arkansas."
Clemmons served 11 years of his sentence before he was released.
Clemmons moved from Washington to Arkansas as a youngster. There, he had several run-ins with the law, and was eventually handed the hefty prison sentence for a host of charges - including robberies, burglaries, thefts and bringing a gun to school.
During a pre-trial hearing, he hid a piece of metal in his sock, court documents show. Before the start of another hearing, he grabbed a padlock off his holding cell and threw it at a court bailiff. He missed, and the lock hit his mother who had come to bring him clothes.
"That's the one word that came to my mind that I remembered about him was that he was mean," said W.A. McCormick, who was a deputy prosecuting attorney at the time. "He was shackled in court and deputies placed behind him while he was tried - because he was such a security risk."
Clemmons continued to lash out violently behind the prison fences in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
"Over and over again," said Larry Jegley, the prosecutor who put Clemmons away.
"Failure to obey, engaging in sexual activity," he rattled off the charges as he flipped through Clemmons' prison record, "failure to obey, possession or introduction of drugs, firearms."
McCormick said he told the parole board - repeatedly, in writing - that Clemmons should remain in prison. And he would have opposed it once again if he knew that Huckabee was considering commuting Clemmons' sentence.
During his 2008 presidential bid, Huckabee was criticized for granting
clemency to another inmate, convicted rapist Wayne DuMond.
DuMond was later convicted of raping and murdering a woman in Missouri.
Before he accepted responsibility for his decision, Huckabee first blamed Clemmons' alleged actions on Sunday to failings in both Arkansans and Washington's legal systems.
But Jegley pointed the finger directly at Huckabee. One survey, he said, showed Huckabee issued more clemencies from 1996 to 2004 than the governors of all six surrounding states, including Texas.
"He needs to bear responsibility for that," Jegley said of the former governor's decision to grant clemency to Clemmons.
"We did everything that we could do with him and got him sentenced to 108 years. Mike Huckabee, with the stroke of a pen, undid that."