The US state of Mississippi has temporarily suspended a mass 11th-hour pardon that set four convicted murderers free and sparked outrage among victims and law enforcement officials.
The state’s attorney general argued Wednesday that the surprise decision by outgoing governor Haley Barbour to pardon some 200 prison inmates — including 14 convicted killers — was unconstitutional.
Attorney General Jim Hood said Barbour violated state law by not publishing the pardon requests 30 days before granting them earlier this week, and a Mississippi judge granted an injunction halting the proceedings.
“He violated the constitution and many if not most of those so-called pardons he gave will be held null and void,” Hood told CNN. “We’re having to clean up the mess he’s made.”
The injunction requires that proceedings be halted for 21 inmates currently being processed and that five convicts already released check in with prison authorities on a daily basis, he said.
“Four murderers and one armed robber are out and they will have to report back to the department of corrections daily. I wish we could have gone out and arrested them but the law wouldn’t allow me to do that on those five,” he said.
Barbour had approved full pardons for some 200 people, including 14 convicted murderers, according to official documents published on a government website (www.sos.ms.gov).
CNN reported that the four murderers released had worked at the governor’s mansion as they served their life sentences.
In a statement late Wednesday, Barbour said 189 of the 215 people pardoned were already out of prison, including many who had been released for medical reasons.
“My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 percent of the cases,” said the statement, published by WTVA News.
But several victims expressed fears that their lives could be in danger, including Randy Walker, who survived an attack by David Gatlin, one of the four convicted murderers who were released.
In 1993 Gatlin walked into the trailer home of his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis, and fatally shot her in the head as she held their six-week-old baby in her arms. Gatlin also shot Walker in the head.
“I feel like my life is in jeopardy,” Walker told CNN. “I wonder if he’s going to finish what he’s started.”