November 30, 2009 by  

As a general matter, I think there are far too few uses of executive clemency, commutation and pardon in our current criminal justice system. But here’s a case of one gone awry that may end up having real political ramifications.

You may have heard that four police officers were murdered in what under different circumstances would look like a mob assassination in Washington state coffeehouse this morning.

The man local police are seeking for questioning is Maurice Clemmons, 37, a man with a lifetime history of violence, burglary, aggravated robbery, theft and rape. Clemmons was serving what was essentially a life sentence in Arkansas before having his sentence commuted by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee.

“This is the day I’ve been dreading for a long time,” Pulaski County prosecutor Larry Jegley told the Seattle Times when told Clemmons was a suspect in the quadruple murder.

As far as I can tell, until today, Clemmons had never been accused of, let alone indicted for or convicted of a homicide. The record is rather one of an endless string of aggravated robberies, assaults and similar crimes. An account of one of Clemmons court appearances from his original sentencing appeared thus in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in March 1990 …

Circuit Court Judge Floyd Lofton decided Thursday not to hear further charges against an 18- year-old Little Rock youth already serving 108 years in prison.

Maurice Clemmons of 2808 Welch St., while in the courthouse for previous appearances in Lofton’s court, tried to throw a padlock at Lofton’s bailiff and hid a piece of metal that could have been used as a weapon in his sock.

Clemmons still faces charges of robbery, theft of property and possession of a handgun on school property that could result in up to 95 years more in prison.

Thursday, Lofton agreed with Clemmons’ assertion that he might be prejudiced by Clemmons’ prior actions and transferred the case to Circuit Judge Perry Whitmore on the condition that Clemmons waive his right to a speedy trial. Lofton thought the paperwork for the transfer might delay the trial past the one-year speedy trial limit, said Deputy Prosecutor Mark Fraiser.

Clemmons moved to Washington state in 2005. But in recent years more glaring evidence of mental illness began to grow. Clemmons was released from county jail less than a week ago with charges of second degree child rape still pending. (Why he was released when he was still wanted as a fugitive in Arkansas is a question someone will likely soon be called upon to answer.) Evidence collected during the child rape investigation paint a picture of a delusional person claiming he was the messiah, sexually assaulting young relatives, predicting the imminent end of the world and telling his wife and said young relatives that President Obama would soon visit to confirm that he was in fact the Messiah.

In the midst of all of this Clemmons somehow also found time to get into a couple confrontations with the police this year — one of which led to another charge of assault after he punched a sherif’s deputy in the face.

Those with long memories will remember that this is not the first Huckabee commutation with a bad ending. The case of Wayne Dumond got a good deal of attention in the 2008 presidential campaign.

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