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Friday, January 13, 2012

Haley "Hacksaw" Barbour and the Great Escape

     If you think that all conservatives are hard on crime, think again. In his last days in office, Haley Barbour, the two-term Republican Governor of Mississippi, granted pardons to 208 prisoners. Among those who will walk free are people convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, and aggravated assault. Forty-one of those pardoned were behind bars because they had killed someone. Governor Barbour pardoned five men who had been working as prison trustees at the Governor's mansion. Two of these prisoners had murdered their wives, and another had killed a man during a robbery. One of the questions that jumps to mind is this: whose idea was it to employ convicted murderers at the Governor's house? In Mississippi, are convicted pedophile trustees working in daycare centers?

     While most of Governor Barbour's acts of clemency are controversial and puzzling, two cases are especially outrageous and beyond understanding.

Karen Irby

     While driving under the influence in 2009, Karen Irby, the socialite wife of a Jackson, Mississippi business executive, killed two physicians in a violent car accident. In 2010, after pleading guilty to two counts of manslaughter, the judge sentenced Irby to 18 years in prison. Pursuant to Barbour's conditional pardon, Karen Irby, now 40, will serve just two years of house arrest and another two years of community corrections supervision.

     Althought the judge in the Irby case considered 18 years an appropriate punishment for the defendant's crime, one could argue it was a bit harsh for unintentional killings. But you can't say this for the following Barbour pardon.

David Glenn Gatlin

     In 1994, a jury found David Glenn Gatlin, then 23, guilty of murder, aggravated assault, and burglary. He had walked into the home of his estranged wife and shot her fatally in the head as she held their 6-weeks old child. Gatlin then turned his gun on RandyWalker and shot him in the head. Walker survived the assault. This was a case of cold-blooded murder. (Gatlin promised, if he ever got out of prison, to finish the job on Walker.) The judge, who obviously didn't want Gatlin to get out of prison, sentenced him to life, plus 20 years for the aggravated assault, and 10 years for the burglary. Had Randy Walker died from his head wound, Gatlin would have been eligible for the death penalty.

     Gatlin was one of the killer/trustees who worked at the Governor's house. Two week before being pardoned by Barbour, a parole board had denied Gatlin's petition for release.

Karla Faye Tucker

     The Gatlin pardon got me thinking about Karla Faye Tucker. In 1983 Tucker was in her early 20s and running around with a gang of bikers. That year, while living in Texas, she murdered a woman with a pickaxe during the commision of a home invasion robbery. It was a brutal, gratuitious, cold-blooded killing. The following year a jury found Tucker guilty, and she was sentenced to death.

     At some point between the brutal crime and her conviction, Karla Faye Tucker found Jesus and became a spokesperson for the power of redemption. As her execution date approached, Tucker appeared on numerous national TV shows such as "Larry King Live." Various religious groups and conservative politicians put pressure of Texas Governor George W. Bush to commute Tucker's sentence to life. The Governor held his ground, and on February 3, 1998, Karla Faye Tucker died in Huntsville, Texas by lethal injection. It had been fourteen years since a woman had been executed in the United States.

     While Karla Faye Tucker may have been forgiven by a higher power, she had not been forgiven by the state of Texas.

Pardons

     Whenever a prisoner guilty of a crime is pardoned, it means this person has been officially forgiven by the state. It's an act of executive mercy, or clemency. I would argue that certain prisoners, by virtue of the heinous nature of their crimes, and respect for their victims, should never be pardoned. I believe that David Glenn Gatlin is one of those people. It seems that in the state of Mississippi, Governor Haley Barbour is the only one who has forgiven Gatlin. But under the law, that's all it takes. If Gatlin, or any of the others released by the governor commit violent crimes, Haley Barbour should be sent to prison to serve out their sentences.   

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