The Supreme Court of Mississippi has ruled that the pardons of more than 200 convicts granted by former Gov. Haley Barbour during his last days in office were valid.
The court rejected Attorney General Jim Hood's argument that the pardons were not notified to the public as required by law, and ruled that the final decision rested "solely with the governor," CNN reported Friday.
In the 77-page, 6-3 ruling, the court said the pardons "may not be set aside or voided by the judicial branch." "We are mindful that the victims and their families are entitled to be interested in the subject matter of this case, and they are undoubtedly – and understandably – concerned with its outcome," Justice Jess Dickinson wrote for the majority. But the judge added that in the cases before them, "It fell to the governor alone to decide whether the Constitution's publication requirement was met."
"In this decision, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed more than a century of settled law in our state," Barbour said in a statement. "But this was not only about the power of the pardon or even the power of the office, but about the ability of a governor to grant mercy."
However, Hood, a Democrat, responded by saying he would seek to amend the Constitution to clarify that the judicial branch has to enforce the 30-day notification period in the future. Barbour's lawyers pointed out that courts in the state had previously ruled that the notice rule was "an unconstitutional encroachment" on the governor's power.
"We do respect the decision of the court, but feel deeply for how it must weigh on the victims and their families," Hood said in a statement. "It is these victims and family members who have lost today and the criminals who have won."
Barbour acknowledged "the natural feelings of victims and their families."
"Nevertheless, these were decisions based on repentance, rehabilitation, and redemption, leading to forgiveness and the right defined and given by the state constitution to the governor to offer such people a second chance."
The two-term governor left on Jan. 10 after filing the pardons and sentence commutations, including that of 17 murderers, with the Secretary of State's Office. After Hood went to court, the release of 21 inmates was put on hold pending an enquiry.
Barbour had then said his office let only 26 out of the penitentiary and half of them for health reasons. Most of them, he added, had been out for years and years and years, and were no more a threat to the people of Mississippi.
Of the 26 inmates still in custody, 10 were granted full pardons, 13 were released on medical grounds; one was granted suspension of sentence; one, conditional and indefinite suspension of sentence; and one, conditional clemency. Five of the murderers who were granted clemency worked as trusties in the governor's office.
Ed Blackmon, a lawyer who represented two of those still held, hopes his clients would be released soon. "Family members are very anxious to have them released," he said.