Mississippi’s former governor, Haley Barbour, recently made an unprecedented move. He pardoned 208 convicted felons, allowing murderers to go free before their time was served. Now, though, questions are being asked about the validity of the pardons and whether some people actually deserve to be pardoned.
According to reports, prisoners are required to serve five years before becoming eligible for a pardon. Currently, 37 states, including Mississippi, give governors the power to grant pardons. Governor Barbour was required, though, to provide 30 days notice before prisoners could be set free.
Legal analysts speculate whether Barbour provided proper notification. Attorney General Jim Hood raised the issue, stating, “This isn’t a partisan issue. Either you followed the constitution or you didn’t.” Circuit Judge Tomie Green issued a temporary injunction against the pardons and stated that Barbour’s administration must present all notices before any pardons may continue.
Many are now wondering whether these pardons should have even taken place. Families of victims have spoken out and said they feel slapped in the face and a sense of injustice. John Dedousis lost his sister to a drunk driver; she received a pardon from Gov. Barbour. Dedousis started a Facebook group “Victims of Mississippi Pardons.” The page is filled with comments from people outraged over the release of prisoners.
However, there are those who feel the pardons are not wrong. Mary Cary, a speechwriter under Barbour, wrote in U.S. News, “I’d bet that at least a few of them were convicted under questionable circumstances, and may or may not have had the benefit of DNA evidence when they were originally tried. I’m sure the governor has seen, as the rest of us have, the increasingly unjust nature of our court system these days.”
And then, of course, there is the question by theologians. How does pardon fit into the broader sense of justice and forgiveness? The Christian Post spoke with Derrick McQueen, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary in New York City to get a sense of the religious arguments for and against pardoning.
McQueen stated, “It is very hard to even approach the subject when we don't do enough work to help victims families heal and grieve their loss. It will always seem unfair and someone's heart will always be hurt. This is where churches and church families can help loved ones work through the hurts and move, maybe not to forgiveness, but to a sense of closure so that when the state does pardon there is a network of support to revisit the grief that inevitably comes with the decision.”
He added, “It is the true test of learning to be a follower of Christ. God, Christ and the Spirit's grace for us are nothing but pardon. We don't have to be like Christ in our human condition, but we must strive to be as he lived. We must be the pardon.”