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

Huckabee defends decision to commute Washington police shooting suspect

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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. WeThePeopleofVirginia

    Just stop commuting sentences altogether . . . why trust anybody.

    Those criticizing Huckabee do so simply for political reasons. Where are the endless stories about the WASHINGTON STATE JUDGES that released Clemmons on such a low bail?

    Progressive HYPOCRITS.

    December 3, 2009 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  2. Peter

    Lets see, he had a "long and violent criminal history" but it's impossible to tell what would happen in the future, "..I don't know how anyone can do it" Well most people would have drawn that conclusion from his record and 108 sentence.
    Gee 108 years...think the judge knew he didn't to be back on the streets?

    December 3, 2009 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  3. Tony in Maine

    hmmmm – I wonder if Dukakis had thought to use the "I wish" defense...

    Naw – he's a Democrat. The "journalists" wouldn't have relented until the top floor, corner suite in the publisher's building told them to.

    December 3, 2009 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  4. Pack it in Huckabee.....

    you're done , baked, can't get around that you had a big part in the deaths of the 4 police officers and all of the damage that it did to their families....

    December 3, 2009 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  5. Registered Republican

    Mike I really respected you and always thought you were a smart man with good policies BUT man-up! You are weak willed when it comes to keeping monsters in jail. You were conned (no pun intended) and bought a load of bull repeatedly from violent folks of all ages and release over a 1000 people onto U.S. streets OVER the wishes of judges, juries and prosecutors.

    Be honest now. Say you made a mistake and that is it! No more explanations AND if you say one more time you would have made the same decision now with the same set of facts before you then you have learned NOTHING. Please do not run for office again if this is really who you are.

    December 3, 2009 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  6. T K

    I am not a fan of Huckabee but the man did what he thought was right at that time. Nobody knows what a person is going to do in the future so give the man a break !!

    December 3, 2009 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  7. A.B.

    Huckabee's acknowledgement of the Maurice Clemmon's criminal past prior to issuing clemency should end any prospects of his seeking the presidency. I believe that Huckabee could have foreseen the possibility of further criminal violence, based on the evidence in Clemmon's file and could have prevented this situation. Huckabee had also granted clemency to another violent criminal, Wayne Dumond who later raped and killed a Missouri woman. Two serious mistakes in judgement have resulted in the deaths of many innocent people. Mr. Huckabee is incapable of rendering sound judgements in the interest of the nation's welfare and safety and therefore should never be elected president.

    December 3, 2009 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  8. j williamson

    Being 16 doesn't exempt anyone from being a cold-blooded animal. Warm and fuzzy doesn't work here Governor.

    December 3, 2009 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  9. Virginia

    Typical brain dead preacher. He believed everything this criminal said when Clemmons was only doing it to get out of prison. These big christians are so easy to manipulate. That is why we don't ever want one in the White House.

    December 3, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  10. j

    Every person, from his parole officer to Huckabee, should be held accountable. The blood of those he killed is on their hands. He was a violent child rapist. His age should not have been a consideration. As a society we have grown afraid of punishing criminals, and good people pay the price. Violent crimes should have mandatory federal terms. Violent sexual crimes should have mandatory sterilization and 20-year minimum terms.

    December 3, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  11. bobster

    I'll be your Huckabee!...Dont waste yor time running for president.

    December 3, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  12. blindbear

    It's called judgement. A very useful thing for the most powerful person on Earth to have. It involves making decisions based on facts, Who woulda thunk that someone ith that long a rap sheet would actually grow up to be dangerous to society. And he and his fellow Republicans have the nerve to accuse liberals of being soft on crime.

    December 3, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  13. Larry

    Sorry Mike, There are NO excuses for allowing a person who our justice system put behind bars for 108 years (for good reasons), to walk free after 11 years !!!!!


    December 3, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  14. AEK

    So, I'm guessing Mr. Huckabee will not be running on a law and order-oriented ticket! Nice goin' Mike! You should take some out to explain your rational to the families of Clemmon's victims and then find yourself a job at WalMart.

    December 3, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  15. Greg

    Wow, just reading this makes this Clemmons sound like a Michael Meyers from Halloween. So basically the Huckster decided to release him based on his age when he committed the crimes and the fact that he claimed he found Jesus and not the person or the crimes. Huckabee bears a lot of responsibilty for the deaths of these police officers. This man should have never been released.

    December 3, 2009 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  16. Brookfield Bill

    Too bad for Mr. Huckabee that he is a member of the same Republican party in 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 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  17. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    I know you can't see the future, but you don't commute violent offender's sentences.

    December 3, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  18. Just My Opinion in Texas

    Huckabee can try to defend his actions all he wants ... but when you look at the actions of Clemmons before, during and after his trial .. it becomes apparent that he clearly needed to stay behind bars as a continuing risk to society in general due to his violent actions and seeming total lack of self-control.

    Huckabee can SAY all he wants ... but actions speak louder than words and Maurice Clemmons' actions drown out all of Mike Huckabee's useless platitudes!

    December 3, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  19. dave

    Wow Mike, what a turn around from just 4 days ago when you were pointing fingers at everyone from the parole board to the prosecuters that it was THEIR fault this guy was let out under YOUR watch. Guess that line didn't get much traction so now you had to change your tune.

    Typical politician. The only change they know is when they are forced into it. Wouldn't know honesty if it hit them in the face.

    December 3, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  20. eedy

    Tell it like it is, Mike; you didn't go with your conscience. It was political. You got your headlines! WELL, the headlines are now BACK!

    December 3, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  21. Lindsay

    What Pastor Huck doesn't like to refer to at this time is the real reason he commuted Clemmons' sentence: he was "impressed" because Clemmons had "found Jesus" while in prison and became "born again".

    So because Huck saw Gawd in this creepo, 4 cops are now dead, murdered in cold blood by this "born again Christian" named Clemmons.

    Way to go, Huck. The only good thing that comes out of this now is that my dog has a better chance of becoming president of this country than you do.

    December 3, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  22. Greg

    Huckabee handed out clemencies far too frequently and it has everything to do with his faith. In this case, blind faith. Perhaps a decent preacher, but he's no President.

    December 3, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  23. jennifer

    The wording in this article is a little biased. Huckabee has accepted responsibility from his very first statement. But the responsibility should be shared with the Washington justice system. Clemmons was recently charged with raping a 12 year old girl. Why, with his record, was he even out on bail in Washington? I don't have to go back nine years to see serious problems with our legal system.

    December 3, 2009 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  24. Bryce Beamish

    Four police officers are dead because of Huckabee's actions.

    Get off the stage, Mike. You're done.

    December 3, 2009 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  25. rod

    Most people are not talking about this but Huckabee only granted a clemency which reduced his time from 108 years to 47. Thus he was "eligible" for parole after 11 years. The parole board made the decision to put the nut case back on the street. after only 11.

    Basically Huckabee was saying that the kid was 16 and that when he was 63 perhaps he should come get another chance at life.

    Of course the lame stream liberal media won't report this .

    December 3, 2009 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
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