By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres
JACKSON — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said Thursday that his office is willing to pay confidential informants for information that helps him track down a convicted killer pardoned by former Gov. Haley Barbour.
There’s no warrant for Joseph Ozment’s arrest, but Hood wants to serve him court papers that would require him to check in with the Mississippi Department of Corrections every 24 hours and show up for a hearing in Jackson on Feb. 3. Ozment was among 198 people pardoned by Barbour in his final days in office.
Ozment and four others had worked as trusties at the Governor’s Mansion. A judge ordered them to check in with corrections officials and show up in court for a hearing this past Monday.
Ozment was the only one who didn’t show up. The judge didn’t issue a warrant because Ozment hasn’t been served with papers telling him to appear.
Hood said the fact that there’s no warrant for Ozment has made it harder to find him because friends and relatives are not legally compelled to cooperate and can’t face charges for harboring him.
“I’ve equated this to having a manhunt with one arm tied behind my back,” Hood told reporters Thursday during an interview in his office.
Hood said the possibility that Ozment may have to return to prison for the rest of his life could make him “a dangerous individual.”
Hood is challenging the legality of some of Barbour’s pardons. He said about 170 people who got them did not meet the Mississippi Constitution’s requirement to publish a notice in a local newspaper for 30 days. Most had already served their sentences and had been out of prison for years. Some were convicted of drug charges or other comparatively minor crimes as far back as the 1960s and 1970s.
Some of them published notices for four weeks in weekly newspapers. Hood said four weeks is only 28 days, not the 30 days specified in the constitution, so they should have published for five weeks. Others were published in daily newspapers but the ads didn’t run for a full 30 days before the pardon was signed. Hood has said about two dozen people published the proper notice.
Barbour, a nationally known Republican who considered running for president in this year’s race before backing out, has accused Hood of partisan politics. Hood is the only Democrat in statewide office. Hood said Thursday that the issue has nothing to do with politics and that’s it’s a matter of the law.
Ozment was sentenced to life in 1994 for the slaying of Ricky Montgomery during a robbery at a store in Desoto County.
Montgomery’s nephew, Mark McAbee, has said was among several people involved in the robbery.
“One of the other ones shot my uncle three times. He was crawling toward Joseph Ozment for help. He didn’t know Joseph Ozment was involved … Joseph Ozment put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger twice,” McAbee told The Associated Press earlier this month.
Hood would not put an amount on the money he’ll pay for information. He said that depends on how valuable the information turns out to be.
Hood would not say exactly where authorities are looking now, but previously said they were trying to track him down in north Mississippi and the Memphis, Tenn., area, just across the state line. Ozment’s mother picked him up at the Governor’s Mansion on Jan. 8 and authorities haven’t heard from him since. Hood said it’s possible he has left the state.