Whatever courts decide, pardons mess poorly handled

Published 12:32 am Sunday, February 5, 2012

Former Gov. Haley Barbour’s pardon fiasco is getting more intriguing and mysterious by the day.

In the latest development, The Associated Press reported that some of the files for the 198 pardons issued by Barbour in his last few days in office are missing. Among the missing files are those for the five inmates, including four murderers, who worked as trusties in the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion.

The attorney general, Jim Hood, who is challenging the legality of the majority of Barbour’s pardons, says his office doesn’t have them. Barbour’s spokesperson says the former governor doesn’t have them. The Parole Board says it doesn’t have them either.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

What’s important about the files is that they could include information about the individuals who received pardons that might shine some light as to whether they truly deserved clemency. For example, one of the missing files pertains to David Glenn Gatlin, whose release has prompted outrage from the family members of his two victims, including one who survived being shot in the head. Gatlin’s request for parole was denied by the Parole Board 10 days before he was issued a full and complete pardon by Barbour. Conceivably in Gatlin’s file, if it can be located, there might be some explanation as to the Parole Board’s decision that Barbour effectively overruled. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Parole Board dealt with another inmate with similar name, not David Glenn Gatlin.)

This latest twist to the story comes only a few days after The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson reported that Hood’s own office might have messed up when it came to publishing sufficient notice about the pardon of the five mansion trusties. According to emails submitted in response to Hood’s lawsuit challenging the pardons, an assistant attorney general told the governor’s staff that he would place the required notices.

However this matter turns out in the courts, Barbour mishandled it badly. He waited too long to issue the pardons, he provided a poor explanation for why he gave them, and he most likely gave out too many.

The repercussions have already begun. His successor, Phil Bryant, has ended the longstanding practice of using trusties at the Governor’s Mansion. Lawmakers are working on proposals to limit the pardoning power of future governors. And Barbour’s standing, even among some of his former supporters, has been greatly damaged.

The disappearance of the files has only added to suspicions about what transpired.