Washington State Tragedy
The senseless and savage slaying of 4 police officers in Lakewood, Washington has raised many questions as to why the alleged murderer was even on the streets. My name has figured prominently in many of the stories because I commuted his 108 year sentence to a term of 47 years back in 2000. I take full responsibility for my decision then. Unfortunately, many of my fellow conservatives don’t seem to want to take responsibility for the facts surrounding the case.
The Maurice Clemmons presented in a commutation request in the year 2000 was much different than the one who is being sought for the killings of the police officers.
The case before me was of a 16 year old who received a disproportionate sentence of 108 years for burglary and robbery charges. He had already served 11 years in Arkansas prison by that time, which is more time actually served than most similar cases would have netted in sentencing alone. Under Arkansas law, governors don’t parole anyone. The Post Prison Transfer Board does. That board can recommend clemency, and in this case recommended by a 5-0 vote that his sentence be reduced. This was one of 1000-1200 cases I reviewed each of the 10 and a half years as governor. Ninety-two percent of the time, any request for clemency was denied. Most of the ones granted were for clearing a person’s record for a minor offense from 20 years previous. The trial judge in the case supported the commutation. During the legally required 30 day public comment period before action on the case was complete, there were no objections registered by my office by any authorities, despite claims of the local prosecutor that he “was afraid something like this would happen.” Interestingly, if he was so afraid, then he has failed to explain why in 2004 when Clemmons was back in prison for a parole violation, his office failed to pursue charges and in fact dropped them, allowing Clemmons to go free, move to Washington, and for reasons beyond me, continue to avoid extradition back to Arkansas or be kept by Washington authorities as he displayed signs of psychotic behavior. I am responsible for the commutation in 2000. I would not have commuted his sentence in 2004 after the re-arrest or in any of the years following. I can explain my decision in 2000. I cannot explain the decision of the very vocal prosecutor in Little Rock who seems to avoid answering the questions as to why he didn’t keep Clemmons in prison in 2004 or get him brought back to Arkansas for his repeated parole violations.
There are some glaring facts that some conservative talkers seem to miss:
1. He was never pardoned. Amazingly, that word has been used to describe my actions 9 years ago. He was never even considered for a pardon.
2. The commutation didn’t release him. It made him parole eligible. He had to meet the conditions of parole for the parole board, who in fact paroled him. He had been in prison for 11 years at the time of his release.
3. Despite news reports, there are no records that the prosecutor, law enforcement, the Attorney General, or victims objected to the commutation. The only responses my office had record of during the public comment period were support letters from the trial judge, and members of the community.
4. He was back in prison by 2004 and would have remained there until 2015 due to his parole violations had the prosecutor chosen to properly file the paperwork.
5. The Clemmons of 2000 did not exhibit traits of psychosis and the kind of behavior that he would later express during several arrests in Washington state during the past year.
6. Religion had nothing to do with the commutation. It’s been erroneously expressed that my own personal faith or the claims of faith of the inmate factored into my decision. That is simply not true and nothing in the record even suggests it. The reasons were straightforward — a unanimous recommendation from the board, support from a trial judge and no objections from officials in a case that involved a 16 year old sentenced to a term that was exponentially longer than similar cases and certainly longer than had he been white, upper middle class, and represented by effective counsel who would have clearly objected to the sentencing. (His race, economic status, or education level are not excuses for his behavior because many people of color who are uneducated and living in abject poverty are civil, trustworthy, and honest to a fault and many well-educated, wealthy, white people are dirtbags — think Bernie Madoff). But sadly, Arkansas has had numerous instances of disproportionate sentencing in which a probation and fine would be meted out to white upper class kids whose parents were able to obtain the services of excellent defense attorneys, while young black males committing the same crimes and represented by public defenders would end up with inexplicably long prison terms. Blacks comprise 15% of the state’s population, but 50% of the inmate population, some of which is due to the fact that their sentences are often longer and they are less likely to be paroled.
The two professions I value most in our society are soldiers and police officers, with fireman and schoolteachers right behind. Soldiers and police officers are the line between us and anarchy. The death of the four officers in Lakewood should never have happened. I regret that I ever saw the name of Maurice Clemmons and that I commuted his sentence and made him eligible for parole. That is my responsibility and it was based on the evidence before me in 2000. If presented the same facts today, I would have acted in the same manner. But once he violated that parole and his second chance in 2004, he should not have received the treatment he appeared to have received from the Arkansas prosecutor or the officials in Washington, who failed to send him back to prison and who let him go free on bail even after repeated violent outbursts and a rape charge from this past year. I can take responsibility for my actions, but not for the actions of others nor the misinformed words of commentators.