December 3rd, 2009
09:14 AM ET
6 years ago

Huckabee defends decision to commute Washington police shooting suspect

Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence when he was governor of Arkansas in 2000.

Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence when he was governor of Arkansas in 2000.

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.

Related video: Huckabee on clemency decision

"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."


Filed under: Mike Huckabee
soundoff (116 Responses)
  1. Todd

    Look, huckleberry is a dope. He does not even understand basic science, or worse – the religion he allegedly supports. But this clemency thing is just silly. He is a moron, not a visionary. how could anyone reasonably expect to predict the behavior of another person 9 years later? Think of what you were like 9 years ago. Probably not the same as you are now. So - mock hucklberry for being a conservative – only a fool could possibly think that is a good idea - or mock him for his ridiculous misinterpretations of scri[pture, or his insane commentary about topics he clearly doesn't understnad. but on this, leve him alone.

    December 3, 2009 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  2. 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

    Mr. Huckabee, why do you have anything more to say about this?

    YOU NEED TO GET RIGHT WITH GOD, not the media

    the families of the slain police do not want to hear you babble on about 'how could I have known?'

    you are a sad man to keep this up, so stop it please, be a man and just work through this on your own

    you had better NOT pass judgement on anyone else again EVER after this, remove the log from your own eye before judging someone else's splinter, do NOT second guess the president's decisions because now you know how hard it is

    December 3, 2009 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  3. southerncousin

    Any chance of getting an update on the over a year old Pelosi investigation of Charlie Rangel ethics or any of the other Congressional members mired in ethics investigations. No wonder CNN ratings are dropping so bad. The best thing Obama has done is attack Fox, their ratings have soared and we are finally getting more of the truth.

    December 3, 2009 08:43 am at 8:43 am |
  4. annie s

    Huckabee's chances of ever being President were nil anyway, so why even devote more space to this. Write him off and let's move on.

    December 3, 2009 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  5. Enough

    Since Huckabee set this loser free, there were also 2 judges that allowed him to get out, even though his criminal record had grown. Too be fair, this blame cannot be placed solely on Huckabee. The 2 judges bear more responsibility, since this losers criminal record had grown in those years. But heck, politics as usual.

    December 3, 2009 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  6. Kevin R. Barnes

    No Gov. Huckabee, you could not have foreseen that. But for Clemmons to have received the sentence he did meant the system was working. As for his age and the sentence he received, if you did not like it, then you could have worked with the legislature to change the law. But to ignore the rule of law and the judgment of the courts was more an of act of hubris then one of compassion for a juvenile as you seem to contend. To commute the sentence of non-violent offenders is one thing. To commute the sentence of those with histories as violent as Clemmons is something altogether different. You didn't need the power to see into the future Governor. You only needed the power to respect the sentence. And in that Gov. Huckabee, you failed miserably.

    December 3, 2009 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  7. hockeybear

    Noone can see the future, but everyone can see the present. Huckabee should have never commuted the sentence nine years ago. The man was a violent criminal and even Huckabee admitted to it. What was the angle? The agenda? He needs to be held to his actions. Dispicable. And he wants to run for POTUS? Good luck.

    December 3, 2009 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  8. maggie

    Hindsight is always 20/20. He acted on the information available at the time, which is all anyone can do.

    December 3, 2009 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  9. RAG

    WILLIE HORTON! WILLIE HORTON! WILLIE HORTON!

    Bye-bye Huck. Your political carrer is done. Stick a fork in it.

    December 3, 2009 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  10. All I have to say is...

    Two words: Willie Horton.

    End of Huckabee's candidacy for President.

    December 3, 2009 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  11. Mark

    Give the guy a break. How many other high profile people did the same thing? Get over it!

    December 3, 2009 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  12. Paul from Phoenix

    OK lefties, you better stand up and support Huckabee. He is spewing your mantra that everyone has excuses, and all deserve multiple chances.

    Huckabee made a very bad judgment call, and apparently it wasn't the first time with respect to clemency. But, when given the power to change lives that Governors and Presidents have with respect to being able to grant clemency, mistakes will be made. The only way to assure no mistakes will be made is to remove the clemency power.

    December 3, 2009 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  13. buckwheat

    CNN your liberal supported polices are what has created a prison system filled with the degenerates that now ,in some cases are back on our streets supported by 50 years of welfare. Redistribution of wealth works as long as someone works and pays taxes. I have seen 72 years of redistribution of wealth under various social programs and it has made unemployment figures rise since employment will in most cases cut off the check. No one willing to produce anything is what got us where we are.

    December 3, 2009 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  14. historian

    How could Mike Huckabee not have the foresight and good judgment to know this man was filled with violence??? I would never, ever vote for him as he doesn't think things through – innocent people have died because of his error in judgment.

    December 3, 2009 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  15. Liz

    Huckabee has blood on his hands. This should be the end of his political career. Period.

    December 3, 2009 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  16. Jim

    I don't think anyone faults Huckleberry for not seeing into this one bastard's future, but he had a "long and violent criminal history". He commuted the sentence because Clemmons was only 16. What in hell does that have to do with the situation? Sociopaths aren't normal people until 21 years of age and then go bad ! A "long and violent criminal history" at 16 portends a grim future for him and the society he curses with his presence. Even a politician should be able to see that !!!

    December 3, 2009 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  17. not alone

    Umm dude you had the power to stop this madman at the time by takin a few hours and looking into who you was releasing to the public. The folks who convicted this man and the jugde who sentanced him knew he was a bad man by the length of jail time awarded. Stop trying to pass the buck on this man, and own up to the fact you are a liberal republican.

    December 3, 2009 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  18. Nhop

    WASHINGTON, D C, January 21, 2013 - President Mike Huckabee today pardoned Osama bin Laden.

    "Mr. bin Laden has shown remorse and, I'm convinced, he has turned his life around. While he still does not accept Jesus in his heart, he acknowledges that our Saviour was a good man who preached a message of peace and love," the president said.

    December 3, 2009 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  19. Dave Hippo

    Why doesn't Huckabee tell that whiny story to the spouses and children of our fallen police officers? Sounds like it's a tough job being Chief Executive. Sounds like Huckabee isn't up to the task.

    December 3, 2009 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  20. Frank

    Do I think 108 yrs is an approperate sentence for a 16 yr old?...Dam right I do...espically when some of those charges inculde molesting a child!
    Huckabee says he was fully aware of Clemens violent past...fine....time for Huckabee to find a different job !

    December 3, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  21. Deja vu?

    Sounds like Huckabee is seriously thinking about running for president. Look, he's already found his own Willie Horton.

    December 3, 2009 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  22. Anonymous

    Concerning Huck's lame lament that he doesn't know ANYONE who can look into the future, that is precisely what the parole board does, and in this context DID, when it advised against release.

    Try again you hypocrite.

    December 3, 2009 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  23. WordMatter

    Mike Huckabee's political viability is coming to an end.

    December 3, 2009 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  24. Steve, New York City

    Everyone makes mistakes – stop pestering Mike Huckabee!

    December 3, 2009 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  25. jayson1969

    It's actually pretty easy to look into the future and predict violent behavior with people with long, violent rap sheets like Clemmons. Even first time violent juvenile offenders have recidivism rates near 50%. For repeat offenders, much higher. Basically, its not rocket science, if a person is repeatably violent, they will continue to be. When leaders choose to override the judicial process and free them, they are partly responsible. Period.

    How much data and observation do we need before we basically accept the obvious in this society? - violent people are violent people, and they will continue to be. Lock them up and throw away the key!

    December 3, 2009 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
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