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. Steve

    "One survey, he said, showed Huckabee issued more clemencies from 1996 to 2004 than the governors of all six surrounding states, including Texas."

    Is Texas known for granting clemencies? I thought they were known for executions. I'm sure Huckabee will regret his decisions for the rest of his life, but I think the real failure was with the Arkansas justice system. They should have come to WA and picked him up after violating the parole terms.

    December 3, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  2. Grahame

    The excuse does not matter. Above everything else it's Huckabees fault since it was his decision in the first place. After all it was his job.

    Goodbye Huckabee........

    Hello Saint Sarah Palin, the shining hope of the Republican Party.

    Sorry I'm laughing so hard I'm having trouble typing this.

    December 3, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  3. pinkette

    Even after reading this article, I still can't understand what would have ever made Huckabee commute the sentence. Clemons showed no sign of remorse or rehabilitation. Look deeper...there's got to be more to this. was Huckabee doing a favor for someone. If Huckabee runs for President in 2012, It is absolutly imparitive that Obama use the same comercial that Bush used against Dukakis.

    December 3, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  4. Kraig Rasool

    In this instance Huckabee is right in everyway...The public have no one to blame this horrific crime on...so the next best thing is to hold
    Huckabee responsible when it is certainly irresponsible...Its like
    parents who raise a child who is almost perfect in everyway, until one
    day they go astray and commit crimes. You cannnot blame the parent,
    Huckabee Im sure read this guy's file over and over at the time and
    felt that he could possibly become a model citizen since he was young at time...however it was not to be, and it is a horrific and
    senseless crime....the only ones who should pay now are those who
    helped this individual while the authorities were searching for him.

    December 3, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  5. Linda

    In my opinion, Mike Huckabee is an accessory to the murder of those poor police officers. There is a reason a judge gave the harsh sentence he/she did in Arkansas. And then one man gets to just erase all of the knowledgeable consideration the judge gave to that case. That is what is wrong with our justice system. The tax payers pay for all of the legal bills for a trial – and then one man gets to just throw all that money away and reverse the decision.

    December 3, 2009 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  6. Chris

    I am dissapointed in the lack of foresight and poor dicission making by Huckabee with the strong evidence that was presented to him not just once but several times. I would not want this type of near sighted fool ever being our president.

    December 3, 2009 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  7. Silence Dogoode

    The decision to grant clemency was Huckabee. The decision to give that power to Huckabee was the consitution of Arkansas. The decision to murder police officers was Clemmons. This does not change the fact that 4 police officres are dead. If you want change then each state must review their constitutions and sentencing guidelines. Instead of balme, we should as voters in our respective states we should act so that this cannot happen again. People who are convicted should not be allowed parole. They should not be allowed TV, work out rooms, etc. They should be required to spend their sentence as handed down, and before being released obtain counseling and an education. The death penalty should be given for murderers, rapists, and traitors. Thanks to the liberal court decisions of the 50's and 60's violent crime has spiralled out of control.

    December 3, 2009 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  8. Ron Mexico

    If he hadn't commuted it, liberals would say he was racist. Sure, he is responsible for commuting, but Clemmons was arrested numerous times after that commutation...come on people, this is just a way to try to smear huckabee.

    December 3, 2009 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  9. abraxis

    Imagine what Huckabee or Palin would say if this had been a democratic governor who had made this disastrous, political career ending, mistake?

    December 3, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  10. John Black Hills/SD

    There is no excuse for this kind of mismanagement the the then Gov. Huckabee. The guy was sentenced to nearly a century, but Huckabee felt it was more important for non-violent marijuana smokers to be institutionalized into the states judicial system. He only has excuses to back his irresponsible decision to let a murderer loose on the general public. Thanks a lot, go back to preaching because you suck as an elected official.

    December 3, 2009 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  11. CNN afraid of a liberal post

    He can defend it all he wants but the fact remains, he did it once. The second time he should have not involved himself. George Bush the first and his asinine assisters, made a big deal out of Willie Horton. When Dukasus had nothing to do with releasing him. Huckabee did make the decision to release Clemmons. He PERSONALLY made the decision. He excluded all recordings of the meeting he had with the parole committee, both recording personnel were excluded from the meeting. Remember that. And when he released Dumont the only reason he did was because the guy had raped President Clinton's cousin. He did that to slap Clinton in the face. He should have learned his lesson when Dumont went on to rape and kill two more women after he was released. HE HAS NO EXCUSE EXCEPT HE IS A REPUBLICAN AND HE IS TRYING TO BLAME EVERYBODY BUT HIM SELF.

    December 3, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  12. Rick McDaniel

    It is time that politicians recognize that all too often, the requests for pardons, do not come with justification, other than somewhere, someone is lining someone's pocket.

    That was a bad decision on his part, he needs to own up to it, and he needs to point out, that those who made the recommendations, obviously did so against the public interest.

    December 3, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  13. Brendan

    Hmmm; failure of the legal system? It seems as though the legal system was working just fine. Then Mr. Huckabee involved himself with his less than perfect view into the future. Had he left things alone, let the system work, we'd have 4 police officers still on the street and fewer grieving mothers, fathers, and children.

    December 3, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  14. Anonymous

    I agree with Hucabee & I am Liberal on many social issues. It's impossible to predict anyones behavior in the future. If anything this case tells us that young people who get into trouble and don't get the appropriate help they need could become worse as time goes by and do terrible things.

    I dont think it's fair for any politician to be held accountable for future acts of criminals that they could not forsee. Just like how the Willie Horton ad was wrong, this here is wrong also. Unfortunately for Hucabee, the political winds are not going to be at his back on this should he run in 2012. While I dont share ANY of his politics, it's troubling that this will be a major issue for him should he run for POTUS as my side would remind him.

    December 3, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  15. Dale

    Sorry Huck, I think that your prospects for Pres just ended. Even if it was an understandable mistake, it still cost 4 people their lives. "Oops, my bad" doesn't cover it.

    December 3, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  16. mac

    Huckabee needs to be brought up on charges for letting this monster go free. Unfortunately he'll tell you in his soft, pious, holier-than-thou, voice how this was none of his fault.

    December 3, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  17. Brandon

    For once, I actually agree with Huckabee. 108 years for a 16 year old is way to long. He could have never foreseen the future. There is no need to tear him down over a decision that I am sure he feels terrible about.

    I think this story goes to show the failures in our justice system, and its innate inability to correct behavior and get someone ready to enter back into normal society.

    Once someone goes to jail, they are no longer able to get a normal job or even have a normal life. That is why so many go back to a life of crime.

    December 3, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  18. Erik in Real Pennsylvania

    As his shreds of hope for a Presidential nomination drift away in the winds of personal responsibility....

    December 3, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  19. Fooled Again

    This is why, voters need to check these candidates records out and not be tricked by phony soft southern talking. Obama supporters found out after they voted for him, that he was full of it. Always check for yourself and you would have found this out about this a year ago with 2 clicks
    For instnace, Obama was hooked up with a crooked real estate guy, but the national media won't report it. Huckabee has a lot of questions in his past, check them out for your self because the media pushes the stories they want. Rule of thumb, if the media is bad mouthing a candidate, then that's a good candidtate

    December 3, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  20. Paul

    I cannot stand Huckabee, and can speak from experience because I was a state employee when he was governor. However, I have to defend him on this decision. I'm not saying it was the right one – it clearly was not, but only in retrospect. He made a reasonable decision at the time based on the information available, and to blame him for this man's actions a decade later is unfair.

    I would suggest we look into Clemmons' past for lessons from this. I'm not trying to sympathize with the murderer, but let's be realistic. The kids we let fall through the cracks now are the felons of tomorrow. More blame can be assigned there, I'm sure, than for a decision to reduce a 108-year prison sentence for a kid barely old enough to drive.

    December 3, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  21. Steve

    Let's face it, Huckabee commuted sentences of prisoners who had preachers stand up and say they had found religion in prision, so he let his religious beliefs get in the way of his duty to maintain law and order. And four police officers in Washington had to pay the price for Huckabee's religious zealotry

    December 3, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  22. Bob of Lompoc

    Good grief ! He is actually out there talking up this decision in a positive way. He is lobbying to stay on the political front burner. He has no self respect, no vision of what he actually DID, and no honor. Just take a walk Gomer Pyle, and stay out of our lives, forever.

    Strange ying-yang: As sad and sorrowful as it is, the murder of the three policemen and one POLICEWOMAN has put this yahoo out of commission and on the track to oblivion. He can NEVER be President. Can you imagine the damage he could have done, as President, to women?

    December 3, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  23. John, Chicago

    This is the reason a religeous zealot should never be President or Governor for that matter. I'm sure Clemmons gave Huckabee a convincing argument about how he found Jesus and has amended his way's It is about time people realize that the Gods people pray to are man-made gods and worshipping the Sun is more sane than worshipping non-exsistent Gods. Jesus Christ was a real person
    but certainly not the son of any God.

    Tis the season Christmastime when we bribe and brainwash Children into believing this nonsense.

    Use your brain and Discover Science and you shall be set free from the fiction that is religeon.

    December 3, 2009 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  24. David Speranza

    Huckabee not gonna get white house in 2012. He could bring a lot of bad decisions like Bush.

    December 3, 2009 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  25. Scott, Tucson

    Scratch one candidate from the 2012 list. Best thing to do with extreme violent criminals is to lower the bar for the death penaty and use it. The lib's would cry over that ideal saying, just lock away the po-little darlings but than the same people would balk about having to pay more taxes to build prisons so to house the thugs.

    December 3, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
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