Mississippi Pardons Issued By Gov. Haley Barbour Challenged in Court

PHOTO: Judge Tomie Green holds the executive order from former Gov. Haley Barbour pardoning David Gatlin as she questions a defense attorney at a hearing.
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The Mississippi Supreme Court heard arguments today that could send 10 freed convicts, some of whom were convicted of murder, back to prison following controversial pardons issued by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood filed a 49-page brief with the state's Supeme Court arguing that the governor's pardon power is not absolute and that the people who received pardons did not run ads daily in a local newspaper for 30 days, rendering the pardons invalid.

Hood has called the pardons a "slap in the face" and has promised to vigorously challenge the governor's decision to pardon four murderers who worked at his mansion, along with a slew of people convicted of rape, manslaughter and other crimes.

Chief Justice William Waller said at the beginning of opening arguments that the court will not hand down a decision today.

If the court sides with Hood and decides the pardons can be challenged, each case would be heard individually by a lower court.

Many victims and their families have spoken against Barbour's decision to release those who have hurt them and their loved ones.

David Gatlin shot his wife, child and Randy Walker, a friend of Gatlin's wife.

Walker survived. He told ABC affiliate WAPT he never thought he would have to worry about his attacker being free again.

"Those nine justices are going to have it in their hands to decide, and, you know, they've got a lot to decide," Walker said. "They're going to be deciding whether they are going to be upholding my constitutional rights or violate them."

One of the murderers who was freed, Joseph Ozment, will not be present at today's hearing. Ozment, who was found in Wyoming, is not legally bound to return to Mississippi, his lawyer told WAPT.

Barbour's decision to grant clemency to some 208 convicted felons right before he left office has focused the national spotlight on a unique practice that's relegated to a handful of states: inmates working in governor's mansion.

The four murderers pardoned all worked in the governor's mansion under a "trusty" system that allows well-behaved prisoners to clean, cook and do other chores at the governor's mansion.

Barbour told The Associated Press in 2008 that it was customary for Mississippi governors to cut short the sentences of inmates who served at the mansion, a tradition that dates back generations. At the time, he faced similar backlash for releasing trusty Michael David Graham, who served 19 years of his life sentence for killing his ex-wife. Graham walked free after working eight years in the governor's mansion.

"I'm not saying I'll be perfect, that no one who received clemency will ever do anything wrong," Barbour said after he left office last month. "But I'm very comfortable and totally at peace with these pardons, especially of the Mansion inmates."

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