By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – During Haley Barbour’s eight years as governor, nine people were executed for the crime of capital murder.
In most if not everyone of those instances, the person set for execution asked Barbour for some type of reprieve. In each instance, the governor refused to commute the death sentence.
Yet, in final days in office, the governor granted some 200 pardons. It should be noted that only 10 receiving the pardons were still serving their sentence. The vast majority already had completed their sentence and the pardons will serve to expunge their record and restore certain rights, such as voting and owning a gun.
Many of those receiving the Barbour clemency and being released from prison were murderers. Granted, it does not appear those receiving the pardons committed acts as heinous as those committed by the people who were executed.
Those executed, for the most part, also committed acts of torture and sexual abuse and in some instances committed multiple murders. Some of those executed committed the most atrocious of acts.
But at least one of the people Barbour pardoned, Joseph Ozment of DeSoto County, committed crimes in association with the murder that in theory could have made him eligible for a death sentence under Mississippi law.
Ozment was convicted of murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy. According to various media accounts, Ozment was among four men who robbed a DeSoto County convenience store. The store clerk was shot by one of the robbers. As the clerk crawled toward Ozment, he shot him again, according to media reports.
Ozment was in a group of Governor’s Mansion trusties pardoned by Barbour. Most of those trusties were convicted murderers. Barbour recently spoke passionately about the Mansion trusties, saying he was confident they would never commit another crime. The former Republican governor said he trusted them to watch and play with his grandchildren on the Mansion grounds.
Barbour, to his credit, said he helped the trusties attend classes to better themselves.
Barbour said it is tradition for the Department of Corrections to assign people who commit murder to serve as Governor’s Mansion trusties because research has indicated that group is less likely to commit another crime.
It is true that there is research that a person, who, for instance, acted out in a moment of passion against a cheating spouse might never commit another crime.
But it is difficult to say all of Barbour’s pardons of murderers fit into that category of a crime of passion, though I must confess I do not know the particulars of the Ozment case or others. I just know what has been reported in various media outlets.
During a news conference he held after leaving office to explain his actions, Barbour said he issued the pardons because he is a Christian and believes in forgiveness and second chances.
He is not alone in those beliefs. Many people believe as the former governor does.
It is a tough issue. There are victims and families of victims who believe their pain and suffering has been ignored. On the flip side, there are families of those convicted of crimes who are thankful for that Christian forgiveness, and one thing that I think we tend to forget is the suffering that those families endure when a loved one commits a crime.
My question, and thankfully I will never have to answer it, is how do you pardon one set or murderers because of your religious beliefs and stand idly by and allow another group to be executed?
Surely, there must be justification. But it would be a question that would keep me up at night if I had to make that determination.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol bureau chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 353-3119.