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Experts: Barbour pardons appear done in 'haste,' lack key information

On his last days in office, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour confused many of his constituents when, without explanation, he granted pardons or early releases to more than 200 convicts. NBC's Mark Potter reports.

Many of the more than 200 pardons by Haley Barbour during his last day as Mississippi's governor seemed to have been done in haste, with information missing from the clemency warrants -- which did not have the “look of full technical and procedural regularity,” experts say.

Sentencing information for many of those pardoned, given clemency or granted early release in one of Barbour's final acts as governor was not included on many of the clemency warrants. And, one of the documents even had a semicolon instead of the date the person was discharged on, said P.S. Ruckman Jr., an associate professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., who reviewed each of the executive orders.

A typical presidential pardon, said Ruckman, would include standard information, such as offense committed and when the crime occurred.

"So I went to those warrants expecting to find that kind of standard information and ... most of them had maybe, I would say, half of that information. The rest of them were missing some date, one way or another, or some piece of information, like not telling you what the sentence was,” he said.

"When you don’t know how severe the punishment was, then you know, I guess you could be of such a mind to say, well, he was hiding that information so a standard person ... couldn’t kind of see how egregious some of these offenses were," he added.

But Ruckman said he didn't think that was the case. "I think it was just a matter of they were in a rush and they were pumping these things out fast, and so they just didn’t bother to fine track down that information and, or, to write it in the clemency warrant."

Former Mississippi governor Gov. Haley Barbour's pardons may have violated the state constitution. NBC's Mark Potter reports.

Barbour: I followed Parole Board recommendations
Following a public outcry over his action, Barbour issued a statement Wednesday evening saying 189 of those pardoned were already out of prison and 13 of the 26 inmates released had cost the state a lot of money because of medical expenses.

Of the 214 cases, 198 received full, complete and unconditional pardons, while the rest was a mix of medical and conditional suspensions of sentences plus a conditional clemency.

"My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 percent of the cases," said the statement, reported by WTVA of Tupelo.

Mississippi Circuit Judge Tomie Green has temporarily blocked the release of 21 inmates over questions about whether a law had been followed that requires the publication -- 30 days in advance -- of legal notice of plans to pardon, The Associated Press reported.

“Bill Clinton’s clemency warrants had that kind of look toward the very end when he pardoned all those people," Ruckman said. "Those warrants are just a big mess, and it took a while for scholars to go through them … because they failed to kind of follow the normal procedures and so, actually for some people, there weren’t ... any warrants at all to be found.

"It wasn’t because they were hiding anything … it was just being done at the last minute,” he added.

What made Barbour's actions different were the number of "wholesale pardons of people guilty of violent crimes” and that he had issued less than a dozen pardons during his eight-year term -- and people were only expecting up to 10 more as he left office, said Matt Steffey, a professor of criminal and constitutional law at Mississippi College in Jackson.

Tiffany Brewer, whose sister was killed by one of the those pardoned, shares her reaction to a Mississippi judge granting a temporary block of the release of 21 inmates, who were among the 200 either pardoned or given medical release by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour before he left office Tuesday.

Some of the crimes prisoners received pardons for included murder, manslaughter, robbery, kidnapping and rape.

“This appears to be concluded and issued in haste,” Steffey said of the clemency action, noting his first reaction to the pardons and warrants "was that it did not have the look of full technical and procedural regularity that you usually see. It just didn’t.”

"I think that this left everybody on the outside scrambling and wondering what exactly was the process inside the governor's office,” he added. "Normally, we hear out of Gov. Barbour a call to law and order ... and it seems like less than a full measure of accountability is in place here.”

A telephone call placed to the Parole Board on the pardons' process was not immediately returned.

Why did Barbour wait?
Ruckman noted that though last-minute pardons are fairly common, recommendations from a parole board don't show up overnight.

"This is a power he just completely ignored all but, and then right before he leaves office ... 200, so that looks kind of egregious," he said. "There’s one guy in the pool whose offense was committed 51 years ago … is it really plausible to say that guy never deserved clemency until Barbour’s last day in office? I just don’t buy that."

Some in Mississippi have speculated that Barbour, a popular governor, had decided the pardons were in the public interest, Steffey said.

But others, including relatives of some victims, have expressed outrage.

Slaying victim's sister to Barbour: 'I want answers'

"Barbour essentially told the public, 'Well, people just misunderstand what’s going on,'" Steffey said. "Perhaps they misunderstand because the governor didn’t explain to the public what he was doing and why … how would the public know that many of these people are not in prison or have served their time or are deceased, because no statement accompanied these acts of clemency."

In the end, Barbour's actions "cast a shadow" over what should be celebratory days for those receiving the pardons, Ruckman said.

“This is the shame of it all. I have no doubt that many, if not most, of the people in there … were well deserving," he said. "The way this was done at the last second … kind of makes it look shady and suspicious, and there’s no need for that." 

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