Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Huckabee Mishandles Cop-Murderer Clemmons' Sentence Commutation

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.

Clemmons' (pictured) rampage Sunday occurred just six days after his release from Pierce County jail on charges of second degree child rape and seven other felonies. His freedom (with a tracking ankle cuff he cut off) was secured with $15,000 he put up from unknown sources, and a $150,000 bond from a bail bonds company called Jail Sucks.  Apparently, he was enraged either because of a domestic confrontation after "discovering a child" (according to a story in this morning's Seattle Times) or because he was generally mad at having been incarcerated. He apparently told acquaintances to "watch the news" because he planned to "kill cops."  He's been chased around Seattle, sometimes based on a trail of blood, abetted by others who, police say, have been lying for him.

It's all sad, scary and horrible, the loss of four brave officers, and this criminal on the loose, a wounded, armed animal whose mental state is some degree of crazy.  The "flat out execution" of the officers comes on the heels of the Halloween murder of Seattle policeman Tim Brenton, "allegedly" (according to eye-witnesses) by Christopher J. Monfort, called by police a "domestic terrorist" who had bomb-making supplies in his apartment. Monfort was shot and is in custody.

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.


  1. Don't_elect_MikeDecember 1, 2009 at 2:36 PM

    I lived in Arkansas during all of Gov. Huckabee's tenure. He is politically inconsistent, conservative on some issues, centrist-to-liberal on others. He was consistently pro-life and pro-2nd amendment. He was also consistently pro-government-meddling in child weight issues (children are required to undergo weight/BMI assessments at school), consistently friendly toward illegal immigration (Little Rock has a Mexican Consulate thanks to him), and he loves to spend tax money. Most troubling for me is his record on pardons and commutations. One of the more important qualities a governmental chief exceutive can have is a clear-eyed view of evil and a determination to see justice done when evil is forced upon innocents. Clemmons and Wayne Dumond may be the best known of his Huckablunders, but they are by far not the only ones. When the people of a state via jury put bad guys away, unless there is evidence of innocence found, the bad guys need to stay away. Mike Huckabee would be a great next-door neighbor, but his refusal to leave the violent encarcerated has cost human lives, and should disqualify him from ever holding elective office again.

  2. "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."

    This is the the fault premise that Huckabee explains in his recent article on the subject. The 108 years was excessive for the crime by Arkansas standards, so Huckabee reduced it to just over 40 years to allow the parole board to take a look at him.

    Does this absolve Huckabee of fault, no. But it certainly destroys the theory that Huckabee took someone worthy of a life sentence and set them directly on the civilian population. Clemmon's rap sheet was nothing compared to what it is today, and his sentence was excessive. I believe it was the Heritage Foundation (I saw the link on Hot Air, I should find it again) that comments in the affirmative on this, that indeed the problem is often over sentencing. It leads us to believe that those who correct the sentence later are responsible for any possible set of events that follow.

    Huckabee harshly goes after the prosecutor, in all fairness the prosecutor went after Huckabee first even though it was his failure to file a warrant that lead to Clemmons being released for the last time in Arkansas.

    I think we an all agree that this event is horrible and I am personally glad Huckabee has taken responsibility for the clemency but not the mistakes that were made afterwords.

  3. Mike Huckabee did not release Maurice Clemmons from prison. He reduced a 16-year old's sentence from 90-some years to 40-some years, thus making him eligible for parole IF THE DEPT OF CORRECTIONS made the judgment that he had been rehabilitated. In this case, there were so many protective measures that weren't followed. The only thing Mike Huckabee did was give Clemmons a chance to prove himself IN PRISON. Although Huckabee's first statement left something to be desired, his second statement was a much larger apology; at the same time, it is foolish to blame the death of four police officers on Mike Huckabee when Maurice Clemmons was released by Seattle courts only days ago after punching a police officer and engaging in other violent activity.
    It feels good to have someone visible to blame, but it was the system, not Mike Huckabee, that failed.

  4. Up until yesterday, I would have cast a presidential vote for Huckabee. Leaving the poor decision years ago in Arkansas aside, Huckabee's current response is pathetic. He is being neither a man, nor presidential. Included in the definition of a man is one who looks to take on responsibility, not shirk it. And one who seeks to be presidential ought to act presidential long before he takes office. Since it tis the season, perhaps the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future will visit Huckabee and then he'll get on a plane, make his way to Lakewood, do what he can to console the families, do what he can to console the Lakewood Police Department, and put up some of his own money to start a scholarship fund for the nine children without a mother or father. Then maybe he'd be acting like a man and someone that wanted to be president.

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