March 9, 2012 12:03:43 PM
JACKSON -- The Mississippi Supreme Court Thursday upheld the pardons issued by former Gov. Haley Barbour, during his final days in office, including several convicted in Lowndes and Okitbbeha counties.
Barbour, a Republican who once considered running for president, pardoned 198 people before finishing his second term Jan. 10.
Most of those pardoned had served their sentences years ago, but crime victims were outraged and created a furor which lasted for weeks.
Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood challenged the pardons, arguing many of them didn't meet a state Constitution mandating notices of the pardons must be published in newspapers for 30 days prior to the pardons being issued.
In their 6-3 opinion, the Mississippi Supreme Court wrote "we are compelled to hold that -- in each of the cases before us -- it fell to the governor alone to decide whether the Constitution's publication requirement was met." The court also said it couldn't overturn the pardons because of the Constitution's separation of powers of the different branches of government.
"In this decision, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed more than a century of settled law in our state. But this was not only about the power of the pardon or even the power of the office, but about the ability of a governor to grant mercy," Barbour said in a statement.
The Supreme Court's ruling hit crime victims hard.
"I hope Haley Barbour and the Supreme Court justices can sleep at night," said Joann Martin, a probation officer from Fort Worth, Texas, whose sister was killed by one of the pardoned trusties.
She thanked Hood for trying to send the killer back to jail.
"God has the final say and that's all I have to say about it," she said.
Hood said he will pursue an initiative to amend the Constitution "to make it very clear that the judicial branch is responsible for enforcing the 30-day notification period in the future" and called on victims groups, law enforcement and other volunteers to help obtain signatures to put a measure on the ballot.
"We do respect the decision of the court, but feel deeply for how it must weigh on the victims and their families. It is these victims and family members who have lost today and the criminals who have won," Hood said.
"As Supreme Court Justice Mike Randolph wrote in his dissent, which was supported by Chief Justice William Waller and Justice Randy Pierce: 'Today's decision is a stunning victory for some lawless convicted felons, and an immeasurable loss for the law-abiding citizens of our State."'
Barbour said he understands "the natural feelings of victims and their families" and recognizes pardons generally are unpopular.
"Nevertheless, these were decisions based on repentance, rehabilitation, and redemption, leading to forgiveness and the right defined and given by the state constitution to the governor to offer such people a second chance," he said.
Of those pardoned, 10 were incarcerated at the time. Others just wanted to clear their names or have their rights restored.
The pardons -- which in most cases absolve the person of all legal consequences of the crime and conviction, as though, in the eyes of the law, the convictions never happened -- include those of two people convicted of Oktibbeha County cases involving deaths and two people convicted of violent crimes.
Linday Kathryn Welch was sentenced in 2000 in Oktibbeha County for culpable negligent manslaughter.
Welch, of Columbus, was sentenced to eight years in prison after she was convicted of stuffing her newborn baby into a trash can, in 1999, when Welch was an 18-year-old student at Mississippi State University.
She said she gave birth in a bathtub at her parents' home, but the baby was dead when she disposed of the body in Starkville.
Mark Allen Hubbard was sentenced in 1996 to 10 years in prison for a vehicular homicide conviction. He was released on parole in 1999 and released from parole in 2007.
Richard Earl Price was sentenced in 1988 in Lowndes Circuit Court for aggravated assault and was released from probation in 1991.
Derrick Lynn Guiton was sentenced in 1999 in Lowndes County to life in prison on a murder plea and five years for simple assault. Court records show Guyton was indicted for capital murder in the murder for hire of Kenny Woods.
Barbour suspended Guyton's life sentence for medical reasons, which means the state is not responsible for the cost of his hospital stay. It also means Guyton is no longer in the custody of the state, though it is unknown why he is hospitalized.
And Jamie Donald Franks was sentenced to five years, in 2003 in Oktibbeha County, on a conviction of aggravated driving under the influence. Of his sentence, three years were suspended and he was ordered to complete three years of supervised probation. Franks was released from county jail in 2004 and completed his probation in 2005.