Four caskets arrive for the Dec. 8 memorial service for four slain police officers in Tacoma, Wash. (photo: Seattle Times)
"Disgusting" and "sick" are strong words. But this isn't the first time Huckabee has lashed out at critics of his clemency decisions.
In 2004, when the then-governor's commutation enabled Eugene Fields -- who had been given a six-year sentence for his fourth drunk-driving conviction -- to walk free after less than eight months behind bars, the director of Arkansas Mothers Against Drunk Driving complained. "We are deeply disturbed," she said, "at the message this sends to those who faithfully enforce, prosecute, adjudicate, serve on juries, and suffer the consequences of drunk driving offenders." Huckabee fired off an angry letter accusing MADD of trying to "fan the flames of controversy" and pandering to "the unusual curiosity of certain media members."
Even more supercilious was the reply received by prosecutor Robert Herzfeld, who wrote a letter calling Huckabee's clemency policies "fatally flawed" and suggesting that it would be "more respectful to the people of Arkansas" for Huckabee to explain his reasons when issuing a pardon or commutation. From Huckabee's office came a mocking rejoinder: "The governor read your letter and laughed out loud. He wanted me to respond to you. I wish you success as you cut down on your caffeine consumption."
Huckabee holds himself out as an exemplar and judge of good character -- two of his books are titled Character Makes a Difference and Character IS the Issue -- but so far he has not mustered the integrity to admit that Herzfeld was right: His promiscuous approach to executive clemency has indeed proved indeed fatal. During his 10½ years as governor, he pardoned or commuted the sentences of an astonishing 1,033 criminals (including 12 convicted murderers) -- more than twice as many grants of clemency as his three immediate predecessors combined. Had Huckabee been less eager to usher Clemmons to an early release, Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Gregory Richards, and Ronnie Owens -- the four police officers gunned down in a Tacoma, Wash., coffee shop last month -- might still be alive.
There is no telling how many innocents have been victimized by Huckabee's parolees. The shocking massacre in Tacoma made headlines nationwide, but what about the other violent criminals set free thanks to a Huckabee commutation? How many of them went onto commit new rapes, new armed robberies, new assaults? How many of them will do so in the years ahead?
Huckabee defends himself by pointing out that the Clemmons whose sentence he commuted in 2000 was not yet a rapist and murderer. "If I could have possibly known what Clemmons would do nine years later," Huckabee insists, "I obviously would have made a different decision."
Thousands of mourners salute as coffins bearing the four slain police officers are carried out of the Tacoma Dome following the memorial service on Dec. 8. (Photo: Seattle Times)
It doesn't take a seer to know that when criminals are released early, more crime follows. In 2002, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, summarizing data from the largest recidivism study ever conducted in the United States, reported that more than 67 percent of former inmates released from state prison are rearrested for at least one serious new crime within three years. Between 1994 and 1997, criminals paroled in just 15 states racked up 744,000 new arrest charges. "Over 100,000 were new charges for a violent crime," the bureau noted, "including 2,900 new homicides, 2,400 new kidnappings, 2,400 rapes, 3,200 other sexual assaults, 21,200 robberies, 54,600 assaults, and nearly 13,900 other violent crimes."
Other than in cases of manifest injustice, when a judge and jury say a criminal belongs behind bars, clemency should be all but unthinkable. Governors have no business gambling with the lives and safety of their constituents. Huckabee "laughed out loud" when a prosecutor warned him that early release can be fatal. And now he calls his critics disgusting?
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)
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