For my daughter, a student at the University of Washington, the world is askew because a murderous gunman is on the loose. Maurice Clemmons, 37, mowed down four police officers at a coffee shop near Tacoma on Sunday morning, then headed north, bearing an abdominal bullet wound received in the attack. Police thought they had him when they surrounded a house not so very far from where I live. They were wrong; it was empty. Then today, he was spotted at the University of Washington. My daughter, who couldn't miss class, headed to her lecture despite her dad's pleas; she said police were everywhere. Campus buildings were closed tonight, just in case; my daughter came home so she'd have a quiet place to study.
I only found out about the peril when my husband called, about 11 am, assuming I'd heard. No. And thanks for the worry, honey.
The story gained national attention because Mike Huckabee, as governor of Arkansas, 9 years ago commuted Clemmons' 60-year sentence for a series of robberies and burglaries (received while already sentenced to 48) after the felon had served 11 years. Clemmons' behavior while incarcerated certainly added to his punishment--he'd lunged for a gun, hidden a metal hinge in his clothes, and thrown a lock at a bailiff (missing, but hitting his mother, who'd come to bring him clothes). The Arkansas parole board reviewed Clemmons' case and released him anyway; he immediately went out and robbed some more, was convicted but released again in 2004, when he moved to Washington State.
What I find especially appalling is the reluctance of Gov. Huckabee, who I admire, to express regret or take responsibility for the fact that Clemmons was in circulation. If he had not been moved by a handwritten plea that used the perpetrator-as-victim excuse, the compassionate governor might have let the repeat offender's sentence stand. Gov. Huckabee, who explained his 1,033 pardons and commutations (one every four days of his ten years in office) on the O'Reilly Show this evening (embedded below) had evaded responsibility earlier today, blaming a "series of failures in the criminal justice system in Arkansas and Washington State."
On the show he did admit "I am responsible" but qualified that he merely acted on the recommendations of the parole board and the judge in the case. He emphasized that the commutation shortened Clemmons' 108-year sentence to make him eligible for parole, which was actually granted not by him, but by the parole board itself.
I find this unacceptable. A repeat offender who had more than the three strikes, and who earned through the justice system 108 years in prison is a hard-core criminal. That a judge and parole board recommended his commutation is bad enough; the governor's office and Gov. Huckabee himself should have seen those facts and denied the request. On O'Reilly, Gov. Huckabee said he did turn down 92% of requests for pardons, and that he studied the paperwork in each case. If that was true, then apparently the governor had enough time to consider the records of 12,912 criminals. If he took no vacations, holidays or weekends off, Gov. Huckabee pored over the files of about four cases every single day during his tenure.
Even conservative pundits see the Clemmons commutation as a huge gaffe, an error of such Willie Horton-esque magnitude that it could easily dash Gov. Huckabee's future presidential aspirations. If Gov. Huckabee had immediately and forcefully taken full responsibility, expressed extreme regret, and bent over backward to vow high priority to public protection from repeat criminals, he might have finessed his failure. But to my mind, even his O'Reilly "explanation" seemed defensive rather than definitive. I think Gov. Huckabee is a good man, but he needed to address his zeal to free Arkansas offenders, and take a hard line against crime.
It's too late for him to do so now. We can only pray that Clemmons is apprehended tonight, for the safety of the citizens of Washington state...and the peace of mind of all the mothers whose children will walk to class tomorrow.