December 1st, 2009
05:37 PM ET
8 years ago

Huckabee: 'I take full responsibility' for suspect's clemency

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Tuesday said he accepts 'full responsibility' for granting clemency in 2000 to a man authorities say gunned down four Lakewood, Washington, police officers on Sunday."]
(CNN) - Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Tuesday said he accepts "full responsibility" for granting clemency in 2000 to a man authorities say gunned down four Lakewood, Washington, police officers on Sunday.

Maurice Clemmons, 37, was shot and killed early Tuesday by Seattle police. He was the subject of a two-day manhunt after the four officers were killed at a coffee shop as they met before their shifts began Sunday morning.

Clemmons had a criminal history in both Arkansas and Washington. In May 2000, Huckabee commuted his 108-year prison sentence to make him immediately eligible for parole, which was granted by the parole board two months later. Clemmons had been sentenced to 95 years, to run after time he was already serving on previous convictions.

In a statement on the conservative news Web site, Huckabee wrote that he commuted Clemmons' sentence from 108 years to 47 years. Reports he had pardoned Clemmons or set him free were erroneous, he said.

"I take full responsibility for my actions of nine years ago," Huckabee said. "I acted on the facts presented to me in 2000. If I could have possibly known what Clemmons would do nine years later, I obviously would have made a different decision. But if the same file was presented to me today, I would have likely made the same decision."

But the Arkansas prosecutor who put Clemmons behind bars told CNN Tuesday that Huckabee was exercising his clemency powers at "an astounding rate" during his tenure as governor.

"He was exercising the clemency power at what I call a wholesale rate," Larry Jegley said. "He was letting murderers out, he was letting rapists out and he was letting the likes of Mr. Clemmons out."

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

He said he didn't know why so many clemencies were granted. "That was part of the frustration that we felt with the entire process. ... We never felt as though he gave victims, their families, jurors, law enforcement and the community in general an adequate explanation as to why he felt compelled to let people of proven danger go in our community."

Huckabee was a Republican presidential candidate in the 2008 election and has not ruled out another White House bid in 2012. During his 2008 campaign, he was criticized for granting clemency to another inmate, convicted rapist Wayne DuMond, who was later convicted of raping and murdering a woman in Missouri.

"Between 1,000 and 2,000 requests for some form of clemency came to my desk each and every one of the 10 1/2 years I was governor," Huckabee said Tuesday. "Ninety-two percent of the time I denied the requests."

He noted that in Arkansas, a governor does not initiate a sentence change - the Post Prison Transfer Board makes a recommendation to the governor after reviewing an inmate's file. The governor then can grant or deny it.

Clemmons was 16 when he was charged with robbery and burglary. "For the crimes he committed and the age at which he committed the crimes, (a 108-year sentence) was dramatically outside the norm for sentencing," Huckabee said. The board unanimously recommended that the sentence be commuted.

Jegley said that while in prison in Arkansas, Clemmons had a disciplinary record for violent incidents, and that something should have tipped the board or the governor off that "this man was not a good candidate to be put back in society, because he couldn't live in the cloistered environment of prison and stay out of trouble."

In the case of any form of clemency - a commutation or a full pardon - notice is given to the prosecutor, the judge, law enforcement officials, the attorney general and the secretary of state, as well as the media, for a public response period, Huckabee said. "The only record of public response to the notice to commute was from the trial judge, who recommended the commendation in concert with the board."

Jegley told CNN he was not notified of the commutation, but he doesn't "attribute that to something sinister. ... I just think that maybe the system fouled up and didn't get notification out to all the parties who were interested in it, my office included."

After being paroled, Clemmons was returned to prison after violating his parole, Huckabee said. He "should have stayed there. For reasons only the prosecutor can explain, charges were not brought forth in a timely way and the prosecutor ended up dropping the charges, allowing him to leave prison and return to supervised parole."

He noted that Clemmons, who had been picked up again in Pierce County, Washington, was released on bail there only days before the officers were slain.

"I can't explain why he wasn't prosecuted properly for the parole violations or why he was allowed to make bail in Washington state and not incarcerated earlier for crimes committed there," the former governor wrote.

On Sunday, Huckabee's office issued a statement saying if Clemmons was "found 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."

Police responded sharply to that statement. "We're disappointed that Governor Huckabee came out in the middle of the night without calling anybody here and blamed this on the criminal justice system in the state of Washington," Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ed Troyer said. "We're guessing that's probably a spin doctor, not him."

Huckabee wrote of Clemmons, "I wish his file had never crossed my desk, but it did. The decision I made is one that I now wish were different, but I could only look backwards at his case, not forward. None of this is of any comfort to the families of these police officers, nor should it be. Their loss is senseless. ... Our system is not perfect and neither are those responsible
for administering it.

"The system and those of us who are supposed to make sure it works sometimes fail," Huckabee said. "In this case, we clearly did."

Filed under: Mike Huckabee
soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. Republicans bite the dust again

    Hey, Mike
    Remember Willie Horton ? get ready for it, it's commmmming.

    December 1, 2009 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  2. GaryB

    I would probably never vote for Huckabee for president (I think he lacks the mental flexibility needed to be an effective chief executive), but I can't really hold him accountable in this case. The fact of the matter is that Clemmons original sentence was wildly out of sync with his original convictions, which were primarily for non-violent crimes committed by a minor. True, he had a disciplinary record in jail, but perhaps Huckabee (or more likely his advisers) felt that it was prison that was turning Clemmons into a violent person, and that taking him out of that environment was the best source of action. Throw in pressure to end prison crowding (everybody wants tougher laws, but nobody wants to pay for the prisons needed to enforce them), and I can understand why he made the decision that he did.

    December 1, 2009 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  3. Steve from WI

    It's too bad that Huckabee hit all the wrong notes when the story first broke. I think what people will remember is that he originally avoided taking any responsibility at all and blamed bureaucrats in both Washington and Arkansas

    Ironically, I would actually commend Huckabee for admitting he would make the same decision over again. Unfortunately, that statement verbatim will pound him into oblivion in the primaries.

    December 1, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  4. republicans hate america

    thats because all he cares about probably as well as the rest of the rush limbaugh party is to put gay people in jail

    December 1, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  5. Pragmatic

    Pastor Huck says he's taking responsibility – then he doesn't. He said he'd really do it all over again ... a 95 year sentence should be a red flag! Pastor Huck should leave forgiveness and pardoning to the Lord.

    Anyone tracking all his pardoned people? Wonder how many are repeat offenders? This isn't the first time – the rapist and murderer was also one of Pastor Huck's "boys"

    December 1, 2009 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
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