Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin pardoned 428 people -- including some violent offenders -- between Election Day last month and the end of his term Tuesday, the state Secretary of State's Office said this week, prompting calls for an investigation by state officials.
Those pardoned by Bevin included a man convicted of reckless homicide, a convicted child rapist, a man who murdered his parents at age 16, and a woman who threw her newborn in the trash after giving birth in a flea market outhouse. Bevin wrote that the woman, Kathy Harless, had “paid enough for the death of her newborn son.” Another pardon recipient, Dayton Jones, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy at a party. The incident was captured on video and shared to social media; the boy suffered internal injuries as a result of the attack.
In yet another case, Bevin pardoned Patrick Brian Baker, who was convicted of homicide and other crimes in a fatal 2014 home break-in. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported this week that Baker's family raised $21,500 for Bevin at a political fundraiser and Baker's brother and sister-in-law also gave $4,000 to Bevin’s campaign on the day of the fundraiser.
Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, condemned Bevin's actions as “a travesty and perversion of justice” and called on the U.S. attorney in Kentucky to investigate. Democratic lawmakers called on Attorney General-elect Daniel Cameron to appoint a special prosecutor or a bipartisan team to investigate some of the ex-governor's pardons. Cameron, a Republican, takes office next week.
The pardons also drew a rebuke from Kentucky's most powerful Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Honestly, I don’t approve,” McConnell told reporters Friday at the Kentucky Capitol. “It seems to me it was completely inappropriate.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele -- also a Republican -- said it would be an “understatement to say I am aggrieved” by the pardons. He noted that in the Baker case, Bevin did not pardon Baker’s co-conspirators in the robbery and homicide. Steele said he believes Baker was pardoned because of the money his family had donated to Bevin.
Judge David Williams, who sentenced Baker in 2017, told the Courier-Journal that, in his 30 years of practice, “I’ve never seen a more compelling or complete case... The evidence was just overwhelming.”
Bevin responded to the uproar in a series of tweets Friday evening, saying he reviewed hundreds of pages of court transcripts and thousands of letters.
“The myriad statements and suggestions that financial or political considerations played a part in the decision-making process are both highly offensive and entirely false,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that "armchair critics” are not aware of "facts, evidence, lack of evidence, supporting documents, reasons and unique details" of the cases.
Bevin also claimed that "not a single person was released who had not already been scheduled for a specific release date or who was sentenced with the eligibility to be considered for early release."
"The vast majority of those who were pardoned, have actually been out of prison for years and have fully paid their debt to society," Bevin added.
Lawyer Eddy Montgomery said the pardoned criminals' victims received no warning of their release, and he rushed to inform families before they were blindsided.
Montgomery said he was particularly shocked to see Brett Whitaker pardoned -- Whitaker was convicted of two counts of murder after killing a pastor and his wife while driving under the influence in 2011.
Another pardon was granted to Micah Schoettle, who was convicted last spring of raping a 9-year-old child and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Bevin wrote that Schoettle had been convicted of the crime “based only on testimony that was not supported by any physical evidence.”
The governor has full jurisdiction over pardons under Kentucky’s constitution, except in cases of treason against the state.
On Thursday, just days after being sworn into office. Beshear restored voting rights to 140,000 convicted non-violent felons,
The state used to allow non-violent offenders to vote after they’d served their sentence, but in 2015 Bevin reversed the order. Kentucky was just one of two states with lifetime disenfranchisement laws that barred convicted felons from voting, regardless of the crime.