Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour responded to criticism over his decision to grant clemency to 215 people, saying as an evangelical Christian he believes in forgiveness and the power of a second chance.
“The historical power of clemency by the governor to pardon felons is rooted in the Christian idea of giving second chances,” said the two-term governor who left office last week after filing the pardons and sentence commutations, including that of 17 murderers, with the Secretary of State’s Office.
“I’m not saying I’ll be perfect, that nobody who received clemency will ever do anything wrong. I’m not infallible and nobody else is,” Boston Herald quoted him as saying Friday.
Barbour told reporters that his state had Jews, Hindus, Muslims as well as atheists and agnostics, “but most Mississippians profess to be Christians of some kind.” He said he and his wife, Marsha, are “evangelical Christians, Presbyterians.” And Christianity, he added, “teaches us forgiveness and second chances. I believe in second chances. And I try hard to be forgiving.”
But Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, saw the former Republican governor’s move as possibly being unconstitutional. He went to court Wednesday to stop the releases, alleging violation of a required notification to the public. The release of 21 inmates was put on hold pending an enquiry.
Barbour admitted that some notices fell short of the required 30 days of publication, but only due to newspaper schedules. He said he didn’t expect politicization of the pardons, pointing out that his critics had also asked him to pardon some people.
“Let’s get the facts straight. Of the 215 who received clemency, 189 were not let out of jail. They were already out of jail,” the former governor said. Of the 26 inmates still in custody, 10 were granted full pardons, 13 were released on medical grounds, and one was granted suspension of sentence, one conditional and indefinite suspension of sentence and one conditional clemency.
Five murderers who were granted clemency worked as trusties in the governor’s office.
Barbour acknowledged that his decision could have hurt families of the victims. “I understand and recognize that these families and had love ones who were the victims of terrible crimes ... and I sympathize with the fact that this hurts them, that they lost somebody like that and that they’re not going to forget it and they want vengeance,” he told Fox News. But he added that people who “ask for forgiveness of their sins, redeem themselves” should be given a second chance.
He questioned why Hood didn’t raise any objection when former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove released convicted killers who worked at the Governor’s Mansion. He also clarified that inmates assigned by the Mississippi Department of Corrections to work at the governor’s office are mostly men who committed crimes of passion and do not have criminal tendencies. It’s a tradition in the state for governors to free trusties who work at the Governor’s Mansion, he said. “I am very comfortable and totally at peace with these pardons, including those at the mansion.”
Barbour said he had “absolute confidence” in those released and that “I’d let my grandchildren play with these five men.” He recalled that at age 10 he was fond of an inmate, Leon Turner, who was assigned by then Gov. Paul B. Johnson to look after his grandfather, a Circuit Court judge, who had a neurological disease. “When my older brothers and I were growing up, and our cousins, like federal Judge William Barbour, Leon took care of us,” Barbour said. “He helped raise us. He was our playmate, our friend. My grandmother built him a house for his old age, and his wife’s old age. I watched the power of a second chance and what it did for Leon Turner.”
Barbour took office in 2004, after working for the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997 and aiding in both the Reagan administration and campaign of George H.W. Bush. He is currently on the paid speakers’ circuit and works for a Jackson law firm as well as BGR Group, a lobbying firm.