Sources in the Barbour camp say the facts are more complex than that. They say all but 26 had already been released from prison. Of that 26, 13 got medical releases and 10 got full pardons.
But this isn’t a public reaction born out of numbers. It’s a reaction born out of anger and, for many, a sense of betrayal.
In that instant, Barbour changed the perception some Mississippians had of him 24 hours earlier. On his last full day in office, the majority of Mississippians saw Barbour as the man who told us to “hitch up our britches” after Katrina and get to work rebuilding. But 24 hours after that, news of the pardons had many of Barbour’s supporters searching vainly for explanations or justifications of the former governor’s actions.
Others reacted by calling for amendment or outright abolition of the powers of pardon and clemency for Mississippi governors. That’s a dangerous and foolhardy overreaction.
Here’s my take on the pardons. While I don’t pretend to understand Barbour’s reasoning on several of the pardons, the majority of them had the sole impact of clearing the records of inmates who had already served their time and been released.
Some of the same national critics of Barbour’s 2012 pardons were stripping the political bark from his back in 2010 over refusing to pardon the Scott Sisters for a heinous 1993 Scott County armed robbery. So to suggest that at least some of the outrage over the Barbour pardons has a basis in partisan politics is unavoidable.
But the suggestion that Barbour’s pardons of criminals who perpetrated “crime of passion” murders of women send a distressing, insulting message to women who survive such crimes is likewise unavoidable.
One other cold hard fact about the Barbour reprieves can’t be avoided: Rich white socialite Karen Irby pleaded guilty in 2010 to manslaughter in connection with the deaths of two doctors, Lisa Dedousis and Daniel Pogue, at a Jackson intersection. Irby was legally drunk at the time of the fiery accident. Barbour gave Irby clemency before leaving office.
But in the 1988 accident that killed House Speaker Philip Gunn’s parents and sister, the poor black driver of the vehicle that collided with the Gunns was also intoxicated at the time of that tragic accident in Oxford. In 1989, Howard Hewlett was convicted on three counts of manslaughter as a habitual offender and sentenced to a total of 60 years in the state prison. Unlike Irby, Hewlett remains incarcerated at Parchman. Exactly what made Irby more deserving of mercy than Hewlett?
I’ve never been a fan of state inmate “trusty” laborers working at the Governor’s Mansion. That’s a vestige of skirting the state’s shameful convict labor and convict leasing practices of the past.
Mississippi needs the check and balance of gubernatorial pardons, clemencies and other reprieves over possible judicial and legislative branch mistakes in the criminal justice system. Governors, any governor, must use those powers with discretion. Haley Barbour’s ultimate legacy will rest in whether voters – after reviewing all the facts - believe he did that or not in these instances.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601)507-8004 or email@example.com.