JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, pardons put on hold in Mississippi.
Margaret Warner has the story.
MARGARET WARNER: Last night, after days of controversy, a Mississippi judge moved to block some last-minute pardons made by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour.
As he vacated the governor’s office this past week, the two-term Republican issued pardons to more than 200 felons, 14 of them convicted killers and many others imprisoned for violent crimes. After a furor erupted, Barbour office yesterday issued a statement saying that 189 of them, or roughly 90 percent, had already completed their sentences.
The judge’s ruling temporarily blocks the release of 21 of those who were still in jail.
To help sort all this out is Daniel Cherry of Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
And, Daniel, welcome. Thanks.
How did this story just explode? Flesh it out for us a little bit.
DANIEL CHERRY, Mississippi Public Broadcasting: Well, whenever he – Gov. Barbour had first pardoned five inmates. And that was drawing enough attention.
And then came this additional 200-plus, and it really did just create a serious public outcry around here.
MARGARET WARNER: And so, what — some became public right away, but then just this week, you heard about the nearly 200 others?
DANIEL CHERRY: Right.
We heard that on the day that he left office. We got a release from the secretary of state’s office that said there were 200 more that he had pardoned just before he left office.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, did he give any reasons for — I’m sorry — I didn’t mean to interrupt you. Did he give any reasons for why these pardons were issued?
DANIEL CHERRY: Well, he hasn’t spoken to the media. And I asked him personally, and he wouldn’t speak to me.
But he did release a statement yesterday evening kind of laying out why. He said that, you know, 90 percent of these people have already served their term, and he wanted to get the felony off of their record, so that they could then vote, get licenses and hunt.
MARGARET WARNER: And hunt, so I guess get a firearm license.
Now, I understand there is quite a furor, quite an outcry over this.
DANIEL CHERRY: There really is. And it’s tough to really judge public opinion, because we haven’t done any polls or anything like that.
But just judging from social media and comments on news articles, a lot of people really were worked up over this. They were wondering why that this extremely popular governor would go and pardon 200 or so felons at the very end of his — really, a term that was just a legacy. And he did this right at the end. It had a — left a lot of questions for a lot of people.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, before we get into what the judge did last night, explain the basis, the foundation of the governor’s pardon power and how other governors have used it.
DANIEL CHERRY: Well, in Mississippi and in many other states, as I understand it, as it has been explained to me by experts, governors and even the president, they have power to pardon inmates at their own — in Mississippi, at least, at their own discretion.
Now, in Mississippi, we have a little system to where certain trusted inmates that they call trustees who have gained the trust of their supervisors can then go and work in the governor’s mansion, and it’s kind of conventional to pardon those particular trustees.
Now, governors in the past really in the — at least in the past 20 years or so, really haven’t gotten more than around the 10 pardon mark, some as low as one, some as high as 13, and nothing anywhere close to 200.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Daniel, I reported in that — in the introduction to you that there were — looks — appear to be 14 convicted of murder and many others convicted of violent crimes.
Give us a flavor. I mean, were they — did they all involve injury to other people? What — how would you characterize them?
DANIEL CHERRY: Well, they didn’t all — the majority of them were drug offenses. There were DUIs, a lot of things like that.
But then there’s also kidnappings, enticing children. And then there’s the manslaughters, homicides that don’t get reported along with the actual murders, per se.
MARGARET WARNER: So, let’s go to the judge’s ruling last night. Now, this is a state judge, and he blocked just 21 of them. On what basis, and why just 21?
DANIEL CHERRY: Well, those particular 21, in best of my knowledge, had not been released yet. So, whenever there is a pardon, as I understand it, there is a 48-hour period that goes in between the pardon taking effect and those particular inmates being released. These particular 21 had not been released yet.
So, whenever the injunction took place to halt the pardons, these particular 21 were held in limbo. And, so, they are held until a further hearing. And then it will be decided. Then their fate will be decided.
MARGARET WARNER: And on what legal grounds did the judge issue this injunction, which I understand had been requested by the attorney general?
DANIEL CHERRY: Yes. Mississippi’s attorney general, Jim Hood, used Section 124 of the Mississippi State Constitution that says, before a felon can get a pardon, they have to file a request, a petition in the newspaper from where the crime occurred. They have to do that for 30 consecutive days before they can be released.
And the attorney general and the circuit judge thought there was considerable doubt that this had not been done in all cases. So they’re taking this time and the extra hearing to review all of this to decide their fate.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, I understand you have talked to some of the victims’ families. Just tell us about one, at least.
DANIEL CHERRY: Well, I’ve talked to a couple. I actually talked to one just a little bit earlier this morning.
And she told me that whenever — and this particular woman that I spoke to, her sister was killed by one of the men who is pardoned. He’s not part of the 21. He’s part of the five who got out before the 21. He is out. And she said, whenever she got the news, it just brought everything rushing back to her. And she said it felt like her sister — you know, her sister was killed just yesterday.
And she just really feels for other families and victims who have to go through this. And then there’s another gentleman that I spoke with. He was — he was actually shot in the face by a man who was released. And now he says he fears for his life. He fears that this man has been pardoned, he’s out there, and he’s afraid that he is going to come find him.
MARGARET WARNER: Daniel Cherry of Mississippi Public Broadcasting, thank you.
DANIEL CHERRY: Thank you.