An Inside Look at Huckabee and Clemency

The murder of four Seattle-area police officers has, beyond the immediate tragedy, turned in to a major political headache for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who once commuted the sentence of the apparent killer, Maurice Clemmons. Fair or not—and some of the criticism has been over the top—the episode is particularly damaging because of Huckabee’s record, while governor, of regularly shortening the sentences of convicted criminals.

Few people have taken a closer look at that record than Joe Carter, who served as director of research for Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign. In that capacity, one of his chief tasks was, essentially, to conduct pre-emptive opposition research on Huckabee, looking into the candidate’s background to prepare him against likely attacks from other campaigns. In that capacity, he spent a lot of time going over old files pertaining to clemency, commutations, and pardons. His conclusion, from a post at the First Things site, where he is now the Web editor:

After reviewing hundreds of cases and interviewing numerous people involved in the process, I concluded to my own satisfaction that the governor’s actions and judgment were generally defensible. Yet there remained about a half-dozen situations in which even after reviewing all of the information I was unpersuaded that justice had been served. Although I was sympathetic with some of the justifications offered for making the decisions, I found them inadequate for a number of reasons.

Asked via email which category Clemmons fell into (his post doesn’t specify), Carter said he couldn’t say for certain, but “most of the ones that concerned me were murders and rapists… so I’m not sure [the] Clemmons case was one that would have caught my attention.”

In any case, Carter’s full post, which explores both the political logic against ever commuting a sentence and why Huckabee strayed from it, is well worth a read.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.