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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Governor Haley Barbour And His Pardons of Dangerous Criminals

     In January 2012, in his last days in office, Haley Barbour, the two-term Republican governor of Mississippi, granted pardons to 208 prisoners. Among those released were inmates who had been convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, and aggravated assault. Forty-one of those pardoned were behind bars because they had killed someone. Five of the freed men had been working at the governor's mansion as trusties. Two of them had murdered their wives, and another had killed a man during a robbery. These were not white collar criminals, they were dangerous men. And none of them had been pardoned because they had been wrongfully tried, or were innocent.

     News of Barbour's puzzling and disturbing show of clemency to so many violent criminals stunned the families of the people these inmates had victimized. That shock soon turned to outrage. People were asking why convicted murderers were working at the governor's home in the first place, and why Barbour had felt compelled to set so many of them free. Didn't he have any regard for the nature of their crimes, and the feelings of their victims? Southern conservatives were supposed to be tough on criminals. Had this politician lost his mind? Mississippi legislators were now looking into restricting the governor's pardoning powers.

     One of the inmates Barbour pardoned, David Glenn Gatlin, had good reason to believe he would never walk free. In 1994, a jury found Gatlin, then 23, guilty of murder, aggravated assault, and burglary. Gatlin had walked into the home of his estranged wife and shot her in the head as she held their 6-week-old child. She died on the spot. Gatlin then turned his gun on Randy Walker, and shot him in the head. Walker survived the assault, but is still dealing with the consequences of the head wound.

     The trial judge, who obviously wanted Gatlin to spend the rest of his life behind bars (and not working a cushy job at the governor's house), sentenced him to life on the murder verdict, plus 20 years for aggravated assault on Randy Walker. The judge added another 10 years for the burglary. Had Randy Walker died from the bullet Gatlin had fired into his head, Gatlin would have been eligible for the death sentence. Modern medicine, and a skilled emergency room surgeon, had saved Gatlin from death row, and a future lethal injection.

     David Gatlin not only didn't feel bad about murdering his wife and trying to kill Randy Walker, he promised, if he ever got out of prison, to finish the job on Walker. Thanks to Governor Haley Barbour, Gatlin would get the chance. If he actually carried out this threat, it would be appropriate to send Governor Barbour to prison to finish out Gatlin's sentence. Perhaps Barbour would end up back at the Governor's mansion where, instead of pardoning dangerous killers, he'd be trimming the shrubbery and cutting the grass.

    After the release of documents from the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, it became clear that Governor Haley Barbour had done more than just release killers back into society. He and his wife Marsha had made sure that two of them, David Gatlin and another mansion trusty, could drive away from prison in their own cars.

     On the morning of January 6, 2012, two days before Gatlin and a trusty named Charles Hooker were scheduled for release, Marsha Barbour called a nearby car dealership to arrange the purchase of two used cars for the inmates. A member of the governor's staff had already helped the men acquire their driver's licenses. That afternoon, a staff member drove Gatlin and Hooker, in a state car, to the lot where Hooker purchased a 2007 Ford Focus, and Gatlin a Chevrolet HHR. The inmates used certified checks drawn on Bank Plus to purchase the vehicles. Two days later, the inmates' cars were delivered to the governor's mansion.

     The documents pertaining to the preferential treatment of these murderers did not reveal how these men obtained their bank accounts. Moreover, there were no documents showing who actually paid for the cars. Governor Barbour and his wife, as well as members of the former governor's staff, were not talking, except to say that no laws had been broken.