LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee had a hand in twice as many pardons and commutations as his three predecessors combined.
The case he's asked about most concerns the parole of a castrated rapist who later killed a woman.
Although the Republican presidential contender and Southern Baptist preacher plays down any personal involvement in that release, Huckabee granted 1,033 pardons and commutations in his 10 1/2 years as governor of Arkansas. The acts of clemency benefited the stepson of a staff member, murderers who worked at the governor's mansion, a rock star and inmates who received good words from their pastors.
"It seems to be true at least anecdotally that if a minister is involved, (Huckabee) seems likely to grant clemency," prosecutor Robert Herzfeld said in 2004 after successfully battling the then-governor over the release of a killer.
Whitewater figure David Hale, a government witness in the trial that forced Gov. Jim Guy Tucker's resignation and let Huckabee ascend to the office, was pardoned after being sentenced to 21 days in a state insurance case. Huckabee complained it would cost too much to hold him. The price tag: $1,200.
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards received a gubernatorial pardon for a 1975 traffic offense. Huckabee prepared the paperwork to clear the rock star's good name after he met him at a North Little Rock concert.
During his years as governor, Huckabee granted clemency an average of about once every four days. Huckabee's successor, Mike Beebe, has issued 40 so far this year, fewer than one a week. Bill Clinton, Frank White and Tucker granted 507 clemencies in the 17 1/2 years they served as governor.
The most-discussed clemency case during Huckabee's tenure involved Wayne DuMond, who was castrated — he said by masked men who attacked him at home — while awaiting trial on charges he raped a teenager in 1984. Though Huckabee did not pardon DuMond nor commute his sentence, two members of a state parole board maintain that he pressured them to make a decision in the case.
Huckabee denies any such pressuring and notes that it was his predecessor, Jim Guy Tucker, who reduced DuMond's sentence, making him eligible for parole. Still, Huckabee has acknowledged his interest in gaining freedom for DuMond predated his term as governor.
Huckabee says there's nothing in his record to indicate he's soft on crime. While the number of pardons exceeded those of his predecessors, so did the size of the state prison system and so did the number of people executed.
Prosecutors say Huckabee was more inclined to release or reduce the sentences of prisoners if he had direct contact with them or was lobbied by those close to him.
Some inmates who benefited from some sort of personal connection:
—James Maxwell, who killed a pastor of the Church of God in Arkansas. Maxwell worked at the Governor's Mansion when Huckabee announced his intent to reduce his prison sentence.
—Samuel W. Taylor, convicted on a drug charge. A prosecutor said the man had told him Taylor's sister had gone to school with Huckabee. Huckabee said the sister didn't influence the decision. Taylor subsequently was arrested on another drug charge.
—Donald W. Clark, convicted of theft. Huckabee's pastor recommended leniency for Clark, whose stepmother worked on Huckabee's gubernatorial staff.
—Robert A. Arnold Jr., who was convicted of killing his father-in-law. Arnold's father, a former mayor of Hope, Huckabee's hometown, said he was a casual friend of the governor.
—A pastor who promoted Huckabee among blacks urged the governor to grant clemency to John Henry Claiborne, who was sentenced to 100 years for a 1994 armed robbery, according to a 2004 report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Huckabee made Claiborne eligible for parole after receiving a letter from the Rev. Charles Williams, who told the newspaper he had helped win "many, many" clemencies from Huckabee.
—Denver Witham, convicted of beating a man to death with a lead pipe at bar, had his sentence commuted by Huckabee. The action drew the ire of prosecutors who speculated that Huckabee's act of clemency was related to Witham, who was lead singer in a prison band, being a fellow musician.
Huckabee has repeatedly faced criticism from prosecutors over his clemency policies. And in 2002, Ashley Stevens, the 1984 rape victim, joined Angela McCoy, the daughter of the Rev. Billy Price Bennett who was shot to death in 1979 by James Maxwell, to campaign against Huckabee's re-election.
"I just thought that the power of executive clemency was being exercised on the wrong folks," said Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley, a Democrat who also campaigned against Huckabee.
As for DuMond, the convicted rapist initially was sentenced to life plus 20 years for his conviction in the 1984 rape of Stevens when she was a teenager, but Tucker reduced the sentence to 39 1/2 years, making DuMond eligible for parole.
While Huckabee told reporters last week that DuMond's file was waiting for him when he took office, his interest in the case started two years earlier after he met with DuMond's wife, Dusty. When he took office, she contacted Huckabee again. "He said if he was ever in a position to look into it he would try to remember it," said Dusty DuMond in a 1996 interview with The Associated Press.
Stevens met with Huckabee and his staff in 1996 to discuss his intent to grant clemency.
"I could tell he had already made up his mind," Stevens told the AP last week.
Huckabee argues that it was Tucker's decision to reduce DuMond's sentence that made him eligible for parole, and he maintains he had little — if any — role in his release. Still, Huckabee had publicly questioned DuMond's guilt and met privately with the state parole board.
What happened at that meeting has been the subject of debate. Two members of the board have said Huckabee pressured them for a vote. In a lengthy statement issued this week, Huckabee's campaign denied that he discussed DuMond's parole with the board but said he did talk with board members about the inmate's clemency request.