Hours after the suspect in the ambush execution of four police officers was killed by a "very alert" patrolman, questions continue to swirl as to how and why Maurice Clemmons — an ex-con who at one time faced more than 100 years behind bars — was allowed to live free.
Clemmons, 37, of Tacoma, Wash., had an extensive, violent criminal history marked by volatile and unstable behavior, according to court records and news reports.
His criminal history included at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and at least eight felony charges in Washington, according to The Seattle Times. He had a lengthy prison sentence commuted in 2000 by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who cited Clemmons' youth.
Rhonda Sharp, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Parole Board, said then-Gov. Huckabee commuted Clemmons' 108-year prison term to a sentence of 47 years, five months and 19 days.
"[Huckabee's commutation] made him eligible for parole at that point," Sharp told FoxNews.com on Monday.
Clemmons later violated his parole and was returned to prison until his release in 2004.
"Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State," Huckabee said in a statement issued Sunday. The former governor, who ran for president in 2008 and has been a leading contender in polls for the 2012 Republican nomination, currently hosts a show on Fox News Channel.
Huckabee said the criminal justice system “failed miserably” in Clemmons’ case.
"If I could've known nine years ago, looked into the future, would I have acted favorably upon the parole board's recommendation?” Huckabee told Fox News Radio on Monday. “Of course not."
Responding to his critics, Huckabee said, "Politics is the last thing on my mind. It should be the last thing on anybody's mind. To me it's repulsive that people are trying to bring something like that up in the midst of what ought to be a concern for these officer's families.
"The criminal justice is far from perfect and in this case it failed miserably on all sides."
Huckabee said on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" Monday night that Clemmons was allowed back on the street for a second time in 2004 because prosecutors failed to file paperwork in time, but acknowledged his role in commuting Clemmons’ sentence, making him immediately eligible for parole.
“I’m responsible for that,” Huckabee said of the commutation. “And it’s not something I’m happy about at this particular moment.”
Huckabee reviewed roughly 1,200 such cases each year, 92 percent of which were denied, he said.
“My heart is broken for four families tonight,” Huckabee said.
Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County sheriff, said he was “disappointed” with Huckabee’s remarks.
"We're mainly disappointed out here in that Huckabee made some comments about our criminal justice system and stated we dropped the ball, and we had some problems out here,” Troyer said Tuesday. “And that was made at three or four o'clock in the morning before he had any option at looking at court records or knowing what happened out here.”
Troyer continued, “What we're concerned about is him taking us to task and possibly blaming us for something that he now knows we had nothing to do with.”
Clemmons was wanted in connection to Sunday’s shooting in a suburban Seattle coffee shop that killed Lakewood Police Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, and Officers Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards, 42. A lone patrolman investigating a stolen car early Tuesday spotted Clemmons and fatally shot him, ending a massive two-day manhunt. Four people were arrested for allegedly helping the suspect elude authorities.
Bios of the Slain Washington Officers
Clemmons, who was released from custody in Washington just seven days ago, had been jailed in Pierce County on a pending charge of second-degree rape of a child. Using a bail bondsman, Jail Sucks Bail Bonds, Clemmons posted $150,000 — only $15,000 of which was his own money — and secured his release on the pending rape charge.
In 1989, Clemmons, then 18, was convicted for aggravated robbery, burglary, robbery and two counts of theft of property, said Arkansas Department of Correction spokeswoman Dina Tyler. A year later, he was convicted of burglary, theft of property and possession of a firearm, she said.
"When you do the math on all of them, it all comes to 108 years," Tyler told FoxNews.com of Clemmons' total sentence.
Clemmons violated his parole in 2001 on a robbery charge, Tyler said, and was returned to prison before being released in 2004, Tyler said.
When informed that Clemmons was being sought for questioning in the killings, Larry Jegley, prosecuting attorney for Arkansas’ Pulaski County, told The Seattle Times: "This is the day I’ve been dreading for a long time."
Clemmons also had at least two confrontations with police earlier this year. During one incident in May, according to the Seattle Times, Clemmons punched a sheriff’s deputy in the face and was charged with seven counts of assault and malicious mischief. In another incident, Clemmons was accused of gathering his wife, Nicole Smith, and young relatives and forcing them to “be naked for at least 5 minutes,” according to a Pierce County sheriff’s report.
“The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus,” the report reads.
As part of the child-rape investigation, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office interviewed Clemmons’ sister in May. She said her brother was “not in his right mind and did not know how he could react when contacted by law enforcement,” a report reads.
“She stated that he was saying that the Secret Service was coming to get him because he had written a letter to the President,” the report continued. “She stated his behavior has become unpredictable and erratic. She suspects he is having a mental breakdown.”
Other relatives said, according to the report, that Clemmons claimed he could fly and that he expected President Obama to visit him to “confirm that he is Messiah in the flesh.”
Clemmons was found competent to stand trial earlier this month on the child-rape and other felony charges by a psychologist at Western State Hospital, court records show.
Clemmons moved to Washington in 2004 after being released from prison in Arkansas, according to state Department of Corrections records.
A series of incidents involving Clemmons was reported as he was being tried in Arkansas on various charges, The Seattle Times reports.
During one court proceeding, Clemmons hid a hinge in his sock, allegedly intending to use it as a weapon. In another trial, Clemmons threw a lock he took from a holding cell toward a bailiff and instead struck his mother, who had come to bring him street clothes, according to court records and news reports. On another occasion, Clemmons reached for a guard's firearm during transport to a courtroom. In yet another incident, a presiding judge ordered Clemmons to be shackled in leg irons and seated next to a uniformed officer because the judge felt Clemmons threatened him.