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. He's the man!

    The difference between conservatives and liberals are outlined here.

    Conservatives: Huckabee confronts the challenges and articulates the process that lead him to the decisions he made and owns his mistakes.

    Liberals: Lie about anything that may indicate fault. Blame Bush. Then suddenly become unavailable for comment. Use the fringe media like CNN, MSNBC to suddenly run related news stories to continue the dialogue with hopes their brainless sheep will join in.

    December 3, 2009 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  2. Kelly

    That is a pretty long list of offenses then of problems while incarcerated. I'm thinking clemency may have been used a bit too liberally by former Governor Huckabee. I know there are problems with paying for the large amount of prisoners and the guy was young when it all started, but sounds like the history of violence was there all along. I guess I am way more of a skeptic than the guy with the clemency pen was...

    December 3, 2009 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  3. kevin mcclellan

    Where are all those Willie Horton complainers. Are they taking the road with Huckabee.

    December 3, 2009 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  4. Michael Anderson

    "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."

    If he would have served the 108 years, these 4 Police Officers would be going home to their families tonight. Sounds like 108 years was just the right amount of sentence.

    Why can't he just admit the mistake. He won't be getting my vote, even if he runs for dog catcher in a cat house.

    December 3, 2009 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  5. Florida Resident

    Mike Huckabee can try to make the State of Washington culpable for this but he has to take the heat. He had everything in front of him and then took the word of this future killer that he was now god-fearing. It was the minister in Huckabee that listened to him instead of doing his job as Governor. There is a reason that we separate church and state – this decision is 4 big reasons, the 4 police officers who were murdered. If Huckabee is ever elected President, think of the other sentences he can commute and release the hounds of death upon us all.

    December 3, 2009 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  6. Joyce Becker

    Whatever you do Mr. Huckabee, don't bother to run do for President as you now have your Willy Horton moment, which will haunt you forever.

    December 3, 2009 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  7. Anonymous

    I can only hope that Mr. Huckabee will now take note that wanting to be the nice guy in winning future votes has just cost him any possibility of running for President. I am sure more than just myself would now have a hard choice in believing Mr. Huckabee has the ability to not only make good judgement calls, but when he does not, would he ever take full responsibility. Are those few extra votes really worth the price the families will now pay.

    December 3, 2009 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  8. Roscoe Chait

    Huckabee ignored the nature and content of the charges and convictions against Clemmons. He thought being 16 relieved this psychopathic "child" of all he had done. Huckabee says he couldn't predict the future. Well, Mike, it did not take a psychic to figure out what was going to happen. You put a psycho back on the street after many people in law enforcement did their best to lock him up forever. Good work. Did Clemmons kill those police officers or did you?

    December 3, 2009 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  9. Brookfield Bill

    Corrected.

    Too bad for Mr. Huckabee that he is a member of the same Republican party that gleefully attacked Michael Dukakis during the presidential election of 1988 for his Masasachusetts furlough program with an additional pinch of racial fear mongering.

    December 3, 2009 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  10. annie

    Remember Willie Horton??? Why is bad when Democrats do somethng but justifiable when Republicans do the same thing?

    December 3, 2009 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  11. JohnM

    "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."

    I hereby announce my candidacy for govenor of Arkansas.

    December 3, 2009 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  12. Peter Johnson

    Obviously, nobody can predict the future, and it's not rational to blame Huckabee for what happened. However, it's worth noting that there's no mention of this story on Pajamas Media, National Review, Town Hall, or any other conservative site I checked. Imagine how different that would be if it had been Bill Clinton who had pardoned this guy!

    December 3, 2009 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  13. jeff1968

    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."
    Does Huckabee propose all criminals under the age of 18 deserve clemency ? If his actions warranted a 108 year sentence then let him serve it , who cares how old he was .

    Signed : Future candidate for Governor of Arkansas .

    December 3, 2009 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  14. Houston Mom

    His policital career is over. He can hem and haw all he likes but it will not stop critically thinking people from laying the blame for four dead police officers squarely at his feet.

    Take responsibility for your decisions Mike. Oh yeah, you're a Republican, you guys don't do that.

    December 3, 2009 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  15. Drew

    "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."

    There was a reason he was sentenced that long..........Huck.........Guess it took 4 officers deaths for you to finally see why Justice was served until you undone it.........You should have left the crinimal system to the criminal system and stuck with the politics.

    Not like this is the first one of your pardons to have killed is it?

    The choices you made yesterday and affecting today. Something to think about if you were to get elected as President..........Are you capable of making the right choices. Will those choices you make come back and haunt us years later?

    December 3, 2009 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  16. e.c.coleman

    Huckabee can be defensive, but it doesn't relieve him of guilt
    and a ridiculous decision.
    Glad he wasn't elected president.
    Too bad obama was elected president.

    December 3, 2009 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  17. bill

    The only good news out of this... we don't have to hear him running for president. That dream of his is OVER.

    December 3, 2009 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  18. K. Durham

    Before his sentence was commuted, was Clemmons given any job skills training and education. If he was in prison since he was 16 years old, he should have received education. Did anyone look at his skills and try to help him get a job before he was paroled. The problem we have with paroling prisoners is they do not have any job training when they get out, then what do they do. Prisons should be about education and training so they can change their life around and make a better person.

    December 3, 2009 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  19. Ancient Texan

    The bleeding heart looney Left would have been faulting Huckabee for not granting clemency to a prisoner that was 17 being sentenced to 108 years. They seem to think punishment rather than rehab is wrong. But now, after the fact, they jump on Huckabee for shortening the sentence. He didn't parole the man. Others did that. So theDems are playing politics, as usual.

    December 3, 2009 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  20. CC

    This is what will happen when one elects a person whose expertise is on a book written 2000 years ago by some goat herders. This moron believes in this creatism nonsense when science has proven it to be wrong.

    December 3, 2009 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  21. J.Crobuzon

    Huck's a dumb guy; this is just more evidence. And you actually think of him as presidential, my friends? Sad.

    December 3, 2009 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  22. rj

    Mr. Huckabee, meet Willie Horton.

    December 3, 2009 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  23. Matt

    As a prosecutor, I know that some people, even 16 year-olds, simply cannot function in society. The criminal justice system determined that 108 years was appropriate for this man. Turns out they were right. Mr. Huckabee should have deferred to their decision.

    December 3, 2009 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  24. Seattle Sue

    Huckabee has a lot to be defensive about. Did Huckabee ask God for guidance when he commuted Clemmons' sentence? What a big phony Mike Huckabee is.

    December 3, 2009 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  25. Colin

    Wow. Wouldn't it be great if you weren't being roasted over the coals for an honest error in judgment? Welcome to the world you and your Republican co-horts made you little weasel.

    December 3, 2009 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
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