RIDGELAND, Miss. — Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Friday he's "very comfortable" with his final-days decisions to grant pardons or other clemency to more than 200 people, including convicted killers — decisions that outraged victims' families and dismayed even some of his most devoted supporters.
Barbour, a Republican who had considered but decided against running for president this year, said that 189 of the people who got pardons or other reprieves had already been released from prison before his actions. Only 10, he said, have been or will be fully released from prison, while several with expensive, chronic conditions are receiving medical leave.
"I am fully confident the pardons and other clemency I have given are all valid," Barbour told reporters at a news conference, his first on the subject, at the Jackson-area law firm where he now works.
Barbour granted pardons and other reprieves in his final days before leaving office after two terms Tuesday. Five inmates who had worked as trusties at the Governor's Mansion — four of them, convicted of murder — were released last weekend. One of the freed men had fatally shot his estranged wife as she held their baby in 1993 and then shot her male friend in the head; the friend survived.
Barbour initially declined to comment on the pardons or to provide detailed information about how many of those receiving them were still in prison. He then issued a statement after leaving office, after the pardons had generated a firestorm of criticism.
By the time state corrections officials said Wednesday that 21 on the list were still in custody, state Attorney General Jim Hood was calling the pardons "shameful" and questioning whether Barbour had violated the state constitution by not ensuring inmates gave enough public notice about their possible release.
Hood, the only statewide Democratic officeholder in Mississippi, also persuaded a state judge to temporarily block release of the 21 still in custody. State corrections officials said Friday they would start to release 13 of the 21 inmates because the 13 were given medical discharges and weren't bound by the same public notice requirements before release.
Barbour on Friday reiterated that it's a tradition in Mississippi for governors to free trusties who worked at the Governor's Mansion. And the former governor said he's not concerned that the freed trusties might harm anyone.
"I have absolute confidence, so much confidence, that I let my grandchildren play with these five men," Barbour, 64, said of the trusties freed this week.
He said the Mississippi Department of Corrections picks inmates who work at the Governor's Mansion. Typically, they are men who committed crimes of passion. Corrections officials assign them, he said, because they are not likely to commit another violent crime and make good workers.
Records show Barbour gave "full, complete and unconditional" pardons to 203 people, including 17 convicted of murder, 10 convicted of manslaughter, eight convicted of aggravated assault and five convicted of drunken-driving incidents that caused deaths.
He granted some sort of reprieve to 26 inmates who were in custody — 10 full pardons; 13 medical releases; one suspension of sentence; one conditional, indefinite suspension of sentence; and one conditional clemency.
A pardon erases any remaining punishment for a conviction and restores rights such as those to vote or to carry a gun. A commutation reduces the penalties of a sentence but does not restore full rights.
P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., who has studied pardons, said Friday that most governors have some sort of pardon power, which he sees as a useful tool. He said Barbour's pardons are surprising, not only by their sheer numbers but also by the types of people who received some sort of reprieve.
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