What’s Wrong With Granting Pardon?

It feels weird to blog against ‘pardon’.  We liberals are supposed to be bleeding hearts. Furthermore, forgiveness is woven into the Christian faith, whose central concept is ‘redemption’. We all know that law isn’t  justice. There needs to be some room for pardon in an imperfect world. How should a governor use the power of clemency?

Former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, pardoned Maurice Clemmons in 2000. Clemmons is alleged to have committed many violent crimes since his release.

Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas. He was also recently charged in Washington state with assaulting a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child. Using a bail bondsman, he posted $150,000 — only $15,000 of his own money — and was released from jail last week.

Documents related to the pending charges in Washington state indicate a volatile personality. In one instance, he is accused of punching a sheriff’s deputy in the face, The Seattle Times reported. In another, he is accused of gathering his wife and young relatives and forcing them to undress, according to a Pierce County sheriff’s report.

“The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus,” the report said.

Clemmons in now a suspect in the murder of four police officers  who were ambushed as they sat in a coffee shop.

What was Governor Huckabee’s criteria in deciding who to pardon? That was a subject of controversy even before his run for President…

If you’re wondering how Gov. Huckabee’s hundreds of clemencies compare with neighboring states, get ready for a shocker.
Huckabee leads the pack.
He has issued more commutations and pardons than all of the six neighboring states combined.
From 1996 through July 2004, Arkansas had more clemencies than all neighboring states combined. One-third of Texas clemencies were for people convicted with planted evidence.
Governors seldom reduce sentences in other states – and almost never for murderers serving life without parole or for rapists or for habitual drunk drivers, while in Arkansas it’s a regular habit with Huckabee.

Is it coincidence that Maurice Clemmons is alleged to have terrorized women while using religious language? Did the Christian narrative of redemption make Governor Huckabee susceptible to Christian inmates who claimed to have shed their former selves? Did Clemmons talk up his conversion?

I remember how the televangelists rallied for Karla Faye Tucker. Her execution was no triumph of justice and we would be no less safe if she were given life in prison. Still, I could not help noticing that many of the ministers who called for forgiveness supported capital punishment. They said that Tucker was ‘saved’ and an exception should be made. When God has forgiven, who are we to hold a grudge?

Forgiveness is a beautiful thing in the abstract, but it reality it can be tough and cost dearly. One of the most astounding acts of forgiveness this century was granted by an Amish community in 2006 to the gunman who killed five of their little girls and badly injured five others. Only they, who were so wronged,  had the right to make that call.

The office of governor gave Mike Huckabee the power to grant clemency. Did he use it, or abuse it? It would be a very cold world without mercy, but was that the motivation? Or did Governor Huckabee take it on faith that ‘saved’ meant safe and he need look no further? It would be interesting to review all the pardons he issued, and see if religion was a factor. How did he decide who to grant and who to refuse?

This is important, because religion is an unacknowledged force in politics. As a former fundy, I hear dog-whistles everywhere. I’m suspicious that Mike Huckabee let religious favoritism influence him, and that he released prisoners without due concern for the safety of the public.

If it turns out that Clemmons is guilty of this awful crime, Huckabee won’t be the first politician whose reputation suffers because of a pardon or parole gone wrong. But I fear that many of our leaders are influenced by religion, applying one standard to ordinary citizens and another to their brethren.