January 24, 2012 3:18:00 PM
By HOLBROOK MOHR and EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON -- A Mississippi judge on Monday delayed a decision on whether to invalidate some pardons, including those of convicted killers, issued by Haley Barbour in his final days as governor.
The office of Attorney General Jim Hood said it had been deluged with motions and documents from lawyers representing current and former inmates and that it needed more time to prepare.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green scheduled the next hearing for Feb. 3. She extended until then an order that temporarily blocked the release of five inmates who'd been pardoned.
The judge had ordered the five to be in court and four showed up. All five worked as trusties at the Governor's Mansion and were pardoned this month. Four were convicted killers.
Joseph Ozment, convicted in 1994 of killing a man during a robbery, was not in court. Officials with the attorney general's office said investigators were unable to find him to serve an order to appear notice.
Green told the four former inmate trusties that they need to continue to check in daily with the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
"Your liberty is at risk," Green told them. "This court has allowed you to remain out as a result of the injunction."
The four former trusties were taken out a back door of the courtroom, keeping them separate from victims' families who attended the hearing.
The four were David Gatlin, convicted of killing his estranged wife in 1993 as she held their baby; Anthony McCray, convicted in 2001 of killing his wife; Charles Hooker, sentenced to life in 1992 for murder; and Nathan Kern, sentenced to life in 1982 for burglary after at least two prior convictions.
The five inmates whom the judge has ordered held were pardoned by Barbour on Jan. 10, but they were not immediately released because the corrections department said it generally takes a few days to process paperwork to release an inmate. The five have remained in custody under a temporary injunction that Green issued Jan. 11 at Hood's request. According to Barbour's pardons, they are:
-- Aaron Brown, who was convicted of murder. He was given a life sentence in August 1997 in Hinds County. He had been sentenced in December 1990 in Hinds County for a concealed weapon offense and possession of a controlled substance.
-- Joshua Howard, who was convicted of statutory rape. He was sentenced in March 2009 in Hinds County and was set for release in March 2012.
-- Azikiwe Kambule, who was convicted of armed carjacking and accessory after the fact to murder. He was sentenced in June 1997 in Madison County, getting 30 years for the carjacking and five years on the accessory conviction.
-- Katherine Robertson, who was convicted of aggravated assault. She was sentenced in March 2007 in Madison County, and was set for release in June 2015.
-- Kirby Glenn Tate, who was sentenced in 2003 and 2004 in Lauderdale County for conviction on drug charges, including possession of oxycodone and delivery of marijuana. He was set for release in June 2063.
Barbour gave last-minute pardons to 198 people before leaving office Jan. 10. 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. Those being released for medical reasons or who received suspended sentences or conditional clemency did not need to publish notices in newspapers.
During the uproar over the trusties' releases, Hood challenged some of Barbour's pardons on the grounds that inmates failed to meet the state constitutional requirement of publishing a legal notice for 30 days in a local newspaper.
Hood wants the pardons to be invalidated and the former trusties returned to prison. But the vast majority of the people who could lose their pardons had already served their sentences and had been out of prison for years, in some cases for decades, before Barbour's actions.
Barbour, a Republican who served two terms, has accused Hood of partisan politics. Hood is the only Democrat in statewide office.
An attorney for four of the former inmate trusties claimed in court papers that Hood's office should be disqualified from the case because an assistant attorney general helped with the notification process that Hood is now challenging.
Hood issued a statement denying those claims, but his office has refused to answer questions from The Associated Press about whether or not it provided legal advice to Barbour's office about the notification process.
"Our detailed response will be in our court filings," Hood's spokeswoman, Jan Schaefer, said Monday.
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