Let us not white wash governor mike huckabee clemencies

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Kin against clemency
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>>> IN SHORT>>> Helen Spencer was killed 30 years ago. Her family doesn't want the governor to free her killer, while area prosecutors propose more accountability from the governor in the commutation process. [FULL STORY]

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AND RICK KRON
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Let us not whitewash governor's Clemencies
____Gov. Huckabee surprised his critics yesterday and admitted he's been wrong.
____ After weeks of pressure from victims' families, prosecutors and this column, Gov. Huckabee has changed his mind about granting clemency to several murderers, including a psychopath who killed a Gravel Ridge woman.
____ Glen Green, the convicted murderer who is serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of Helen Lanette Spencer, would have gone free in a few weeks if Huckabee hadn't caved in to pressure and withdrawn his offer of clemency.
____ Scores of other killers who had hoped to find themselves in Huckabee's good graces will have little chance of getting out anytime soon.
____ Realizing that his don't-ask, don't-explain policy on clemencies was costing him dearly, Huckabee did an about-face on Tuesday and promised a more "transparent" process in the future.
____ Until Tuesday, he ignored both public opinion and state law when he refused to say why he was releasing murderers from prison, often over the objections of his own parole board.
____ The suspicion was that jailhouse conversions got killers out of prison, but now Huckabee has had a conversion himself.
____
"I want to do my best to explain this sometimes complex process," he said in a statement on Tuesday, after years of silence about how he decided who should live and who should die.
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He announced new "tougher guidelines" and a willingness to listen to everyone who has an interest in clemency cases. You wonder what took him so long.
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"I've thought about it a great deal and now realize that the greater good is served if a more detailed reason is provided," said Huckabee, who will face a hostile Legislature next year that will almost certainly clip his clemency powers.
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It's a humiliating retreat for a governor who thought he was unstoppable. Until yesterday, he said his critics were politically ambitious prosecutors, but when prosecutors from his own party spoke out against his clemencies, Huckabee realized that if he didn't back down, he'd hurt the Arkansas Republican Party for a generation.
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He's now doing what Gov. Clinton did after his humiliating defeat in 1980, when he was criticized for releasing murderers without explanation. That's what Huckabee has done for the last eight years, especially during the last 18 months, as he freed killers at a rapid pace and angered victims' families and others who were offended by his insensitivity.
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Clinton apologized for his mistakes, promised not to do it again and was re-elected in 1982. He issued very few clemencies after that and went on to bigger if not better things.
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For the next 20 years, his successors seldom issued clemencies, but Huckabee dramatically re-versed that trend, which is why he finds himself in trouble now.
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You know a governor is in trouble if his supporters say his record isn't as bad as Orval Faubus' when it comes to clemencies.
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Those who try to whitewash Huckabee's record must go back four decades to find a governor with a worse record than Hucka-bee.
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Until Tuesday, Huckabee didn't even demand that these killers admit their guilt before asking for clemency. The Rev. Johnny Jack-son, who had arranged the aborted clemency deal for Glen Green with his friend the governor, describes Green as a humble Christian man – apparently one of Huckabee's criteria for clemency.
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But the state requires that a killer express remorse for his actions, which Green refuses to do, calling the murder "an accident." The Rev. Jackson says he accepts Green's "account of the incident" – actually a brutal assault, murder, attempted rape and drowning of a beautiful young woman in 1974.
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Even with Faubus' shocking record on pardons for the well-connected – it's deja vu all over again, isn't it? – Huckabee was still handing out clemencies at a rate that would have outpaced Faubus and even Winthrop Rockefeller.
____
What's more, the Arkansas Victims' Bill of Rights was not in place when those prior governors were commuting sentences without victim input. Huckabee and his appointees were ignoring the laws on the books, including the re-quirement to notify victims' families and to explain the reasons for those clemencies.
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Rockefeller, who succeeded Faubus, also issued dozens of clemencies, but he gave a complete, honest explanation: He was opposed to the death penalty and commuted death sentences to life in prison.
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In those days, many prisoners were on death row for other crimes than murder, such as rape. Faubus (or his pals) sold pardons or handed them out to supporters' friends and relatives. Read Roy Reed's "Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal" (University of Arkansas Press) to learn how evil and corrupt the prison system was back in the 1950s and 1960s.
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Let's hope those shameful days are long past. But because Huckabee wouldn't explain his high-profile clemencies, people have wondered about his motives. We know why Faubus granted pardons, but we can only guess why Huckabee is signing off on them.
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At the rate Huckabee has commuted sentences, he could have gone well above 1,000 pardons and commutations before his term expires in January 2007. As we reported here several weeks ago, he has commuted more sentences (102) and pardoned more criminals (567) than his three predecessors combined.
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He has freed more convicts than Bill Clinton – 10 times Clinton's commutations between 1983-1992 – and the comparison with Govs. Bumpers and Pryor are just as bad: Only 138 pardons and commutations for Bumpers, and 153 for Pryor. Gov. White (bless his memory) issued only 39 pardons and commutations, the same as Jim Guy Tucker, Clinton's successor. Do you detect a trend? For the last 20 years, as victims' families demanded justice for their loved ones, politicians have granted clemencies with reluctance. (Clinton learned this painful lesson after he issued 138 pardons and commutations between 1979-1981 and lost his re-election bid. After his comeback two years later, he issued just 75 commutations and 351 pardons over the next 10 years.)
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Rockefeller's clemencies to-taled 480 (which included commutations for death-row inmates). The execrable Faubus is in a class by himself: Only partial records exist, but he issued at least 533 clemencies and probably well over 1,000 pardons in the 1960s.
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Times have changed since those bad old days, and no governor should get away with commuting the sentences of criminals without telling us why.
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Victims' families deserve notification ahead of time and an explanation of every clemency. Hucka-bee often does neither and even overrules the Post-Prison Transfer Board if it decides against him on pardons, as it did, unanimously, when the board rejected a pardon for Glen Green. There are still those who are sticking by their man (including a handful in the media), as they excuse the governor's record-setting pardons and commutations by pointing out that two of his predecessors four decades ago reduced more sentences than has Huckabee.
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Don't let anyone confuse you with the figures. We'll give them to you straight, as we have throughout July as the Little Rock media chased after the numbers and some reporters even made the brazen claim that Huckabee can't be all bad because back in 1971 Rockefeller commuted many more sentences, and so did Faubus back in the 1960s.
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Rockefeller and Faubus are dead, and they can't defend themselves, but several living governors who issued fewer commutations than Huckabee have expressed regret over some of the clemencies they'd granted.
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Until this week, Huckabee remained silent because he thought he was above reproach. His critics have brought him down to earth.
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Huckabee's clemencies are scandalous for many reasons. Not least is the anguish he has caused the victims' families, about which he doesn't give a flip.
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He has set execution dates for those he considers unworthy of clemency because they have not converted or don't work at the governor's mansion or don't play in the prison band and (shame on him) have the wrong color. So Huckabee is not merely an executioner but also an appeals judge who overturns a jury's original verdict.
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At least Rockefeller would let everyone know what he was doing. Huckabee hasn't said much until this week. Occasionally, he talked presumptuously about redemption, and that was about it.
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Pardons were handed out more liberally in the old days before victims' rights became an issue. Back in the 1960s and even the 1970s, victims' families were seldom heard from, but they're now a major force, and any governor who ignores them risks becoming unpopular. That's what has happened with Huckabee, and he's just waking up.
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The Legislature should bring him down a notch or two and severely limit his clemency powers.

--- Past Articles

Why parole a monster like Green?
____Gov. Huckabee probably never read the confession of a demented killer named Glen Green before he made the monster eligible for parole.
___ Green's confession is so depraved, its sadistic details so scary that no sane, responsible adult would consider him for parole.
[FULL STORY]

Huckabee's dubious achievement
Governor sets record for clemencies
____Gov. Huckabee is on a roll: He has freed more convicts than all of his recent predecessors combined – more than 10 times as many as Gov. Clinton during a 10-year period from 1983 to 1992. [FULL STORY]

Governor goes own way on pardons
___
Prosecutors across Arkansas have had their differences with Gov. Huckabee's generous pardons policy, but what bothers them the most is Huckabee's superior attitude when they dare to object. [FULL STORY]

Prosecutors seek more openness on pardons
___When you talk to prosecutors around the state, many of them will tell you they're unhappy that Gov. Huckabee pardons criminals without letting law-enforcement officials or victims' families know why he's doing it, as he's required by law.
[FULL STORY]

Huckabee, prosecutors go on offensive
___They trade jabs over sentencing, pardoning of killers, other thugs
___Several prosecutors around the state are upset with Gov. Huckabee for grant- ing clemency to violent criminals, but he is blaming the prosecutors for often not seeking the maximum penalty and keeping felons locked up longer. [FULL STORY]

B.B. goes home then to funeral
___B.B. King didn't seem his usual old self last weekend when he was performing in his hometown of Indianola, Miss.
___ He put on two fine shows in one evening, but he seemed a bit distracted.
[FULL STORY]

Clintons in lovefest with Bush
___If there's anything more unappealing than watching politicians mud wrestle, it's watching them pretend they like each other.
___Oozing insincerity, Presi-dent Bush praised his predecessor on Monday during an unveiling of the Clintons' official (and utterly mediocre) White House portraits.
[FULL STORY]

World-class blues played near here
___A couple of great blues musicians showed up at Sticky Fingerz in Little Rock on Thursday night.
___ Michael Burks, probably Arkansas' most talented young bluesman, dropped in to catch Deborah Coleman and her band and he was impressed.
[FULL STORY]

What if...
Reagan had won in '76
___Millions of words and thousands of images have filled newspapers and television screens since the passing of Ronald Reagan on Saturday.
___Friends, colleagues, politicians and scholars have discussed every facet of his remarkable life: How he started out poor, became a Holly-wood star, found a second career on television, then a third as a corporate spokesman, and yet another, more spectacular career as a politician.
___ His life has been thoroughly examined this week, but one crucial period and its consequences are virtually overlooked: His losing out to President Ford for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1976, which, it could be argued, helped the Soviets stay in power for several more years. [FULL STORY]

These Vets couldn't go to unveiling
___Uncle Albert Jonikas couldn't make it to the dedication of the World War II memorial over the weekend.
___He's an 84-year-old veteran of the Second World War who saw action in the Pacific - Iwo Jima, Saipan, Okinawa, which was near where the Japanese surrendered - but he doesn't get around much anymore. [FULL STORY]