'Informal' advice threatens pardons

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres

JACKSON — Some of those pardoned by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour might not have complied with rules requiring adequate public notice because they received vague instructions from the state Parole Board and local newspapers.

Attorney General Jim Hood is challenging dozens of pardons and a hearing is set for Monday in Hinds County Circuit Court on his motions to block them. Hood wants to return those who were freed by Barbour, including convicted killers, to the prison system. The vast majority of people who could be stripped of their pardons won’t be sent back to prison because they were out before Barbour’s action.

Parole Board chairwoman Shannon Warnock told The Associated Press on Friday that she “informally” told people to publish a notice of their pardon “for a month” in newspapers in the areas where they were convicted, as constitutionally required. But Warnock said some weekly newspapers told applicants they could publish once a week for four weeks.

Warnock was responding to questions about people who told AP they were afraid of losing their pardons even though they followed the board’s advice.

“I can confirm that. I informally said to publish for a month and you need to publish in the county in which you were convicted. A lot of people then followed the advice and counsel of the weekly newspapers (in their towns), which was to publish once a week for four weeks,” Warnock said.

She had no further comment.

Hood contends once-a-week publication for four weeks doesn’t meet the Constitution’s requirement of publication for 30 days.

Section 124 of the Mississippi Constitution says that in felony cases no pardon “shall be granted until the applicant therefor shall have published for thirty days, in some newspaper in the county where the crime was committed, and in the case there be no newspaper published in said county, then in an adjoining county …”

“The law clearly says 30 days. Four weeks is only 28 days,” Hood said Thursday in a statement to the AP.

The Mississippi law does not mention weekly newspapers.

It’s not clear exactly how many people may have gotten the ambiguous advice. Hood’s office said Friday that only 22 out of nearly 200 people pardoned met the notification requirements.

Barbour, a Republican who ended his second term Jan. 10, pardoned about 203 people in his final days in office.

The move created a political backlash because some of them had been convicted of violent crimes. Five of the men he pardoned had been serving life sentences — four for murder and one for robbery. They had worked as prison trusties at the Governor’s Mansion. It had been tradition in Mississippi for years for governors to set trusties free, though the new governor, Republican Phil Bryant, said he ended the practice this week.

Hood, the lone Democrat in statewide office, challenged those pardons in court Jan. 11. He filed an amended complaint this week seeking to block dozens of other pardons. Many of those people were convicted decades ago of comparatively minor crimes, like marijuana possession or burglary, and had lived lawful productive lives since them.

Hood said Friday that only 22 of the more than 200 people pardoned published the proper notifications.

Barbour stressed last week that 189 of the people who received clemency were already out of prison and some had been for years. The former governor has said his pardons are legal and accused Hood of partisan politics.

Barbour issued 203 “full, complete and unconditional” pardons during his two terms, with 198 of them in his final days in office. They included 17 convicted of murder, 10 convicted of manslaughter, eight convicted of aggravated assault and five convicted of drunken-driving incidents that caused deaths. He granted some sort of reprieve to 26 inmates who were in custody — 10 full pardons; 13 medical releases; one suspension of sentence; one conditional, indefinite suspension of sentence; and one conditional clemency.