By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
RIDGELAND – Former Gov. Haley Barbour spoke of Christian forgiveness and of Leon Turner, an inmate assigned to Barbour’s grandfather, a circuit judge, as he explained the reason for the 215 pardons and suspended sentences he handed out in his final hours in office.
Barbour, in a hastily-called Friday afternoon news conference from the Ridgeland-based Butler Snow law offices where he is now employed, said, “Christianity teaches us forgiveness and second chances. I believe in second chances, and I try hard to be forgiving.”
Barbour, a Presbyterian and conservative Republican, spoke more about religion than at any time during his eight-year tenure.
At times, he was defiant. But he appeared to struggle to contain his emotions as he talked about Turner, a 19-year-old Adams County native convicted of two counts of murder who was assigned to drive Barbour’s grandfather when he lost the use of his legs due to a neurological illness.
“Leon helped take care of us,” said Barbour, who was only 2 when his father died. “He was our playmate, our friend.” He said late in life, his grandmother built Turner and his wife a home.
Of the 215 inmates who received the pardons, five worked as trusties at the Governor’s Mansion. Four of those were convicted of murder and one of robbery.
He said the Department of Corrections selected the inmates to work at the Mansion. But he said he made it clear that he – as is gubernatorial tradition – would pardon those inmates if they worked hard and stayed out of trouble.
He said various studies indicate people who commit murder as a crime of passion are less likely to commit another crime. He said as he watched the trusties work, he thought of Leon.
Asked if he worried that someone he pardoned might pose a danger to society, Barbour said, “I’m not saying I’ll be perfect, that no one who received clemency will ever do anything wrong. I’m not infallible … But I’m very comfortable and totally at peace with these pardons, especially of the mansion inmates,” whom he said he has trusted to watch and to play with his grandchildren.
A Hinds County circuit judge has blocked the pardons at the request of Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, to determine if those receiving them adhered to the state Constitution by publishing in the newspaper that they were requesting the clemency. Barbour said the Department of Corrections sent the newspaper notice out for the five trusties, but apparently not in time to get the notices in the paper the mandated 30 days before release.
In other instances, he said it was up to the person requesting the pardon to send out the notice. Barbour said it appears notices had not been done in some past gubernatorial administrations and no one complained.
Barbour said he understands and respects the anger victims might feel because of the pardons, but said, “The state forgives, gives people a second chance, because it is in the interest of the state for that to happen.”
He said he did not regret giving the pardons but should have made an earlier effort to explain that most already had served their sentences.