JACKSON — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said yesterday he’ll ask a state judge next week to revoke several pardons Haley Barbour issued in his final days as governor, including those for five convicts who worked as trusties at the Governor’s Mansion.
Hood said the five former trusties — four of them convicted of murder, one of robbery — failed to meet the state constitutional requirement of publishing a legal notice for 30 days in a local newspaper to let people know they’re seeking a pardon.
As trusties, the five men did odd jobs such as cooking, cleaning and serving food at the mansion in downtown Jackson. They were released from prison days before Barbour, a Republican, finished his second term on Jan. 10.
Section 124 of the Mississippi Constitution says that before a pardon can be granted, public notice must be published 30 days in advance in a newspaper in or near the county where the crime occurred. Barbour said the person seeking the pardon is responsible for publishing the notice.
Hood, a Democrat, obtained a court order last week from Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green, temporarily blocking the release of five inmates who had received full pardons from Barbour but had not yet been set free. They include Azikiwe Kambule, a South Africa native who was a teenager when he was convicted in 1997 of armed carjacking and being an accessory after the fact to murder. The charges stemmed from a 1996 slaying in Madison County.
Green will hold a hearing next Monday to determine whether the five pardoned inmates who are still being held, and the five trusties who are already out, met the publication requirement. Hood said yesterday that none of the 10 met it.
Hood said his office has served civil papers on four of the five former trusties, telling them to appear in court next Monday.
He said workers served papers yesterday at an apartment in Birmingham, Ala., on David Gatlin, a former trusty who was convicted of killing his estranged wife and shooting a man in 1993 in Rankin County. Hood said Gatlin had purchased a vehicle at a Jackson-area car dealership and the attorney general’s office got Gatlin’s new home address from the dealership.
Hood said authorities have been looking for several days in DeSoto County and in Memphis for the fifth former trusty, Joseph Ozment, who was convicted in 1994 of killing a man during a robbery.
“His mother and family are not cooperating very well with us,” Hood said during a news conference. “He’s dodging service.”
Barbour issued 203 “full, complete and unconditional” pardons during his two terms, with 198 of them in his final days in office.
During his final days as governor, Barbour also gave medical releases to 13 inmates, saying they require expensive treatment such as dialysis. He gave suspended sentences to two people and granted conditional clemency to one.
Barbour said 189 of the people he granted reprieves were already out of prison. Barbour also said during a news conference last Friday that as a Christian he believes in redemption, and pardons offer a second chance. Hood took issue with that yesterday.
“Certainly, Christians forgive. Victims can forgive,” Hood said. “But the state of Mississippi doesn’t.”
Hood said his staff has checked records for 181 of the people pardoned by Barbour and found 13 who met the publication requirement.
Hood said some published 28 days in advance of the pardon, not 30. He said falling short by two days is reason for a judge to revoke a pardon.
“The constitution is not a technicality,” Hood said.
Bipartisan groups of legislators propose changing the constitution or state laws to limit the gubernatorial pardon power.
Barbour’s successor as governor, Republican Phil Bryant, said yesterday that he favors some sort of limits. For example, he said he might favor a constitutional amendment that would allow a governor to single-handedly grant pardons only in cases in which there’s clear evidence of innocence. Otherwise, Bryant said it might be best to have a board review pardon requests and make recommendations.
Bryant was a deputy sheriff before entering politics two decades ago.
“I’ve never been one that would think that one individual, simply because they were elected governor or any other office, simply has the authority to say, ‘OK, now at my direction, I can pardon someone,'” Bryant told reporters yesterday before a speech in downtown Jackson. “I think it goes back to the old feudal system where kings had that authority. I personally — and I’m not being critical of anyone — but I just personally don’t think anyone in government ought to have that absolute power.”