SEATTLE – Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee granted clemency to a violent felon who would later gun down four police officers even though his record in prison was filled with unrelenting violence and exploitation of other inmates, The Seattle Times reported Monday.
A Times investigation into the early life of Maurice Clemmons found that Huckabee either ignored or wasn't aware of Clemmons' record in prison, and that the prosecutor and victims in Clemmons' case were not consulted before the clemency decisions that led to his freedom.
Huckabee, now a Fox News TV personality and a potential candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, declined interview requests from the Times.
But in a Fox News interview last year during the immediate aftermath of the slaying of the Lakewood officers, he understated Clemmons' criminal records and said prosecutors had failed to weigh in on the clemency petition.
The state parole board had voted 5-0 in favor of Clemmons' petition, citing his young age at conviction and the potential for support from a large family. But there was no record that anyone had consulted with the presiding judge, the prosecutor or the victims of his crimes.
Clemmons was shot to death by a Seattle police officer two days after four Lakewood police officers were shot to death at a suburban coffee shop on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Earlier this year, The Times won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for its coverage of the slayings, the subsequent manhunt for Clemmons and the controversy surrounding his release from an Arkansas prison and the Pierce County jail in Washington. The paper has continued its reporting and just published a book, "The Other Side of Mercy," that delves deeply into his early criminal record, his release from prison in Arkansas, and his release from jail in Washington state a few days before the killings.
That investigation included a review of 1,800 pages of prison records from the years Clemmons spent in Arkansas' prison system, considered one of the harshest in nation.
Clemmons first went to prison at 17 in 1989 after racking up eight felony charges in a seven-month crime spree. Once incarcerated he immediately showed a violent streak, the Times reported.
During one of his trials, records show, he became a terror. He reached for a guard's pistol; threw a lock at another guard and threatened to punch the judge in the mouth.
He was ultimately sentenced to 108 years and sent to prison farms, including the notorious Cummins prison farm, which inspired the prison-brutality film "Brubaker," starring Robert Redford, and once led a federal judge to describe the Arkansas penal system as "a dark and evil world."
Clemmons preyed on weaker inmates, looting their possessions and extorting from them, according to prison records. He broke an inmate's arm, and was disciplined for having "sexual relations" with another inmate and for standing watch while others took a turn with the same man.
By 1995, his disciplinary record was so thick that his first eligibility for parole had receded into the distant future, with one projection putting his eligibility at age 55.
But Clemmons persistently pursued freedom, first through appeals of his convictions. One of those appeals went to Marion Humphrey, a Pulaski County circuit judge and minister who had succeeded the judge who had sentenced Clemmons.
"I declare under the watchful eyes of our Lord that I will do all in my power as a man to live a drug-free, crime-free life to the end of my existence," he wrote in a letter to Humphrey.
A few weeks before he wrote that letter, Clemmons assaulted another inmate. Two months after the letter, he was disciplined for another assault and ordered into isolation.
Humphrey vacated two of Clemmons' convictions. That ruling was overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court, but Humphrey would play a role in Clemmons' next bid for freedom — an appeal to the governor for mercy.
"In this case I would have objected strenuously," said Floyd Lofton, the judge who presided at Clemmons trial. But Lofton wasn't consulted because he had retired. The request for input instead went to Humphrey, who backed Clemmons request.
Governors seldom grant clemency, but Huckabee, a Baptist minister, granted 1,033 — more than twice as many as his three predecessors combined.
"He saw that everyone makes mistakes, everyone can be rehabilitated," Cory Cox, Huckabee's clemency adviser for two years, told the Times. "He believed racism is real, especially for people sentenced in the 1960s and 1970s who got disproportionate sentences based on the color of their skin."
On his request, Clemmons argued that his sentence was excessive, and checked a box that said: "My institutional adjustment has been exemplary."
During that year, the Arkansas Department of Correction reduced Clemmons' time in prison to a score sheet: "Disciplinaries: 29 Times. Achievements: None."
In May 2000, Huckabee granted Clemmons clemency, making him immediately eligible for parole. The parole board released him a few months later, even though the prison system rated him at the highest category of risk, placing him among those most likely to return to violence.
Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com