In a stunning goodbye, exiting Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour pardoned 210 state inmates, just moments before he left office this morning. Nearly all the orders were "full, complete and unconditional" pardons. A few were suspended sentences, mostly for medical reasons.
Mississippi's Secretary of State released the long list this afternoon.
The timing was perfect for the Barbour administration to avoid discussing the issue. Calls to Barbour's people were answered by the staff of newly sworn-in Gov. Phil Bryant. Bryant's office respectfully declined comment.
While it's difficult at first glance to know the back-story of each and every pardon, what's most striking is the number of pardons for violent crimes - nearly a dozen for murder, and two for statutory rape. Both men and women were pardoned, most of them convicted on drug, DUI, burglary and armed robbery charges.
Barbour was already under fire for pardoning five prisoners who were assigned to cook and clean at the governor's mansion in Jackson. Four of those men were convicted of murder, and 40-year-old David Gatlin had just been denied parole just two weeks before. In years past, the governor has explained that it is tradition to pardon prisoners assigned to the mansion.
Gatlin was sentenced to life in prison for killing his estranged wife in 1993, and shooting Randy Walker, her male friend, in the head. Walker survived, and his wife Crystal Walker told Jackson's Clarion Ledger that they're now both afraid for their lives.
"On parole he'd at least have to check in and have some supervision," she said Sunday. "Now he could live beside us, or we could run into him at Walmart. You're always looking over your shoulder."
Barbour remains popular in Mississippi, and even critics say it was his right to issue the pardons, and he probably had his reasons. Barbour will be forever credited with helping Mississippi quickly and efficiently recover from Hurricane Katrina, in stark contrast to the recovery efforts in neighboring Louisiana.