Leader Blues

Monday, December 10, 2007

EDITORIALS>>DuMond trips up Huck

Having climbed into the upper bracket of presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee last week faced the inevitable: questions about his long tenure as governor of Arkansas and not merely from bloggers and the conservative rich men’s club that has been chasing him relentlessly and futilely for six months. CBS, ABC, Fox News, CNN and major newspapers took their first long looks at the record of those 10 ˝ years. It was a giddy but also rough week for our man.

We had anticipated this week and, in case he found us, had advised Huckabee on this page months ago that he needed to be candid and perfectly truthful about everything, even — especially — his occasional blunders. It is a lesson that politicians — Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon poignantly but also many others — learned too late to their everlasting regret. People will accept mistakes and forgive them quickly. Deception has a much longer life.

Thus Huckabee had to know from the day that he entered the presidential race a year ago that the sorrowful case of Wayne DuMond would surface and that he would have to deal with it. It has popped up from time to time all year but in out-of-the-way venues. Occasionally, a host on a national network like Fox News would ask him about it without pressing. Huckabee would say that that the rapist and killer was cut free by his predecessors, Jim Guy Tucker and Bill Clinton, and he washed his hands of it. The host always took the earnest preacher’s word and that was it.

For the uninitiated, Wayne DuMond was convicted of raping a Forrest City cheerleader and sentenced to life in prison. He had been the suspect in other rapes and while he was in the Army a murder, but the rape of Ashley Stevens was his only conviction. Before his trial, men broke into his home and castrated him. He always maintained his innocence and his spunky wife carried on a crusade to free him. As lieutenant governor, Huckabee took an interest in DuMond’s case, became convinced that he got a raw deal and promised to free him.

Several months after ascending to the governor’s office in July 1996, he acted. He sought and got a meeting with the state parole board. Behind closed doors — the recording secretary was sent from the room and the media were not notified, in violation of the law — he made his pitch to the board for DuMond’s release. What transpired there has always been in dispute. Several board members later said he had strongly urged them to parole DuMond and they agreed, and he always maintained that he didn’t. Shortly, the board voted 4-1 to parole DuMond. Huckabee issued a statement that day endorsing the decision and wrote a “Dear Wayne” letter to the prisoner saying that he was pleased that he was gaining his freedom. Therefore, he did not have to commute his sentence to time served so that he could walk out.

DuMond had learned something from his earlier encounters with rape victims, who were threatened with death if they told anyone. Ashley Stevens did. DuMond went to Missouri where he soon raped a young woman. He saw to it that there would be no more Ashley Stevens to tell on him. He murdered the young woman. He was the suspect in another woman’s rape and murder in the same neighborhood, but DuMond died in prison without standing trial for it.

Until late this week, Huckabee accepted no blame whatsoever for what happened, although he said he felt great sorrow for the victims and their families. In one famous line, he apologized for Clinton and Tucker. (The parole members were holdovers from the administrations of those men.) Neither Clinton nor Tucker nor anyone else, Huckabee said, could possibly have anticipated that DuMond would rape again and murder women. He said he had strenuously opposed DuMond’s parole after realizing that he would not be supervised. Of course, the record of his own words released by his office the day of the parole disputes that claim.

Then this week the online journal of Ariana Huffington carried more details about what Huckabee knew and what he did. Huckabee’s clemency aide and a current Huckabee backer said he attended the parole meeting with Huckabee and that the governor made an urgent plea in DuMond’s behalf, saying that the courts had been “nefarious” in sentencing him. And the governor received letters from other women in east Arkansas who said DuMond raped them but who were afraid to stand in court against him. A Forrest City police report recording DuMond’s admission to another rape — he later recanted the confession and the woman did not prosecute — was sent to Little Rock. The governor’s aide said one rape victim called the office to plead for the governor not to turn DuMond loose and the aide put her on the phone with Huckabee. It didn’t sway him.

Huckabee first denied that he had heard from other women about DuMond but, confronted with his aide’s account and the existence of the letters, he said he might have got one or two. Thursday he came as he ever would to accepting some blame, saying that everyone, including him, makes a regrettable mistake from time to time. “No one is perfect,” he said.

To this day, Huckabee’s decision to free a psychopath like DuMond seems unfathomable, but we also are sure that he acted at the time from honest compassion and that he believed that he was doing the Christian thing. As he pointed out on other occasions where he sped the release of violent felons and a businessman with a string of DWI convictions, the Constitution gives the governor clemency power so that he can exercise humanity when the cold machinery of law cannot.

But truth also is a Christian duty, and Huckabee will learn that it can be a political expedient, too.