Editor's note, Sept. 1, 2005: Wayne Dumond, convicted of rape in Arkansas and murder in Missouri, died of apparent natural causes in prison Tuesday.
The occasion prompts us to republish Murray Waas' prize-winning article for the Arkansas Times in 2002 about the extraordinary steps Gov. Mike Huckabee took to help win Dumond's freedom. He has since blamed others for Dumond's release to kill again, but his actions over many years demonstrated his support for Dumond and, ultimately, the instrumental role he played in the parole board's decision to free him.Special handling
How the Huckabee administration worked to free rapist Wayne Dumond.
By Murray S. Waas
“I signed the [parole] papers because the governor wanted Dumond paroled. I was thinking the governor was working for the best interests of the state.”
—Ermer Pondexter, ex-member of the board of pardons and paroles
New sources, including an advisor to Gov. Mike Huckabee, have told the Arkansas Times that Huckabee and a senior member of his staff exerted behind-the-scenes influence to bring about the parole of rapist Wayne Dumond, who Missouri authorities say raped and killed a woman there shortly after his parole.
Huckabee has denied a role in Dumond’s release, which has become an issue in his race for re-election against Democrat Jimmie Lou Fisher. Fisher says Huckabee’s advocacy of Dumond’s freedom, plus other acts of executive clemency, exhibit poor judgment. In response, Huckabee has shifted responsibility for Dumond’s release to others, claiming former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker made Dumond eligible for parole and saying the Post Prison Transfer Board made the decision on its own to free Dumond.
But the Times’ new reporting shows the extent to which Huckabee and a key aide were involved in the process to win Dumond’s release. It was a process marked by deviation from accepted parole practice and direct personal lobbying by the governor, in an apparently illegal and unrecorded closed-door meeting with the parole board (the informal name by which the Post Prison Transfer Board is known).
After Huckabee told the board, in executive session, that he believed Dumond got a “raw deal,” according to a board member who was there, and supported his release, board chairman Leroy Brownlee personally paved the way for Dumond’s release, according to board records and former members. During that time — from December 1996 to January 1997 — Brownlee regularly consulted with Butch Reeves, the governor’s prison liaison, on the status of his efforts, two state officials have told the Times.
The governor, his office and spokesman Rex Nelson were repeatedly contacted for a response to this article, but none was forthcoming. Brownlee also did not respond to phone calls, but the Post Prison Transfer Board responded in writing.
The Times has also learned that:
• Ermer Pondexter, a former member of the Post Prison Transfer Board, says she was persuaded by the parole board chairman Brownlee to vote for Dumond’s release and because she knew the governor supported it.
• The board did not allow its recording secretary to attend a closed session with the governor regarding Dumond, nor was the session taped, a departure from custom.
• Board chair Brownlee [2005 note: Brownless has since been reappointed to the Board by Huckabee] personally interviewed Dumond in prison and set in motion the reconsideration of the board’s August 1996 vote to refuse Dumond parole. Normally, inmates must wait a year after a decision for a new hearing. Thanks to Brownlee’s efforts, Dumond was granted a new parole hearing Jan. 16, 1997, just six weeks after his request for reconsideration. This time, the board voted to parole. Brownlee later was reappointed to the board by Huckabee.
• Dumond was transferred to the Tucker unit in December 1996, after his request for rehearing. Had he stayed at Varner, he could not have been scheduled for a new hearing before Jan. 20, 1997, Huckabee’s deadline to act on his announcement that he was considering commuting Dumond’s sentence. His transfer — which the Department of Corrections has explained in conflicting ways — allowed him to get on the Tucker hearing schedule, which let the board parole Dumond before Huckabee’s deadline — and thus take the heat for his release.
When the board paroled Dumond in January 1997, he had been in prison since 1985 for the rape of Ashley Stevens, a Forrest City high school student.
The board made Dumond’s parole conditional upon his moving out of state, but initially authorities in Florida, Texas, and other states declined to allow him to move there. Dumond was finally released in October 1999, when he moved to DeWitt to live with his stepmother.
In August 2000, Dumond moved to Smithville, Mo., a rural community outside Kansas City. He had married a woman from the community who was active in a church group that had visited Dumond in prison and believed him to be innocent.
Only six weeks after Dumond moved to Missouri, Carol Sue Shields, of Parkville, Mo., was found murdered in a friend’s home. She had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.
In late June 2001, Missouri authorities charged Dumond with the first-degree murder of Shields. The Clay County, Mo., prosecutor’s office asserted that skin found under Shield’s fingernails, the result of an apparent struggle with her murderer, contained DNA that matched Dumond’s.
Missouri authorities also say that Dumond is the leading suspect in the rape and murder of a second woman, Sara Andrasek, of Platte County, Mo., though he has not yet been charged with that crime.
Andrasek was 23. Like Shields, Andrasek had her brassiere cut from her body; Dumond cut Stevens’ bra off before he raped her.
“It’s as if he wanted to leave us his calling card,” a Missouri law enforcement officer said.
Four former parole board members have spoken at length to a Times reporter about the Dumond parole. Three of those board members — Ermer Pondexter, Dr. Charles Chastain and Deborah Springer Suttlar — spoke for the record. The fourth only agreed to share his recollections if he were allowed to speak anonymously.
A senior state employee who served as an advisor to Huckabee on the Dumond case also spoke on the condition that he be granted anonymity. He provided a detailed account that has been largely corroborated by former and current members of the Post Prison Transfer Board, other Arkansas state officials, court records, Arkansas State Police files, and previously confidential records of the parole board.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Pondexter told the Times that she voted for Dumond’s release from prison because board chairman Brownlee, asked her to vote that way.
“The reason that I voted as I did was because Mr. Brownlee specifically asked me to vote for the parole,” Pondexter said. “I thought that Mr. Brownlee was acting on behalf of the governor, and I was trying to support the chairman of the board, and I was trying to support the governor ...
“I signed the [parole] papers because the governor wanted Dumond paroled. I was thinking the governor was working for the best interests of the state. So I signed it.”
Pondexter said that she was unsure as to whether Brownlee had specifically mentioned Huckabee’s position while soliciting her vote for Dumond’s parole.
Suttlar, who came forward publicly after Dumond’s arrest for the Missouri murder, said Pondexter had told her at the time about Brownlee’s solicitation of her vote.
“Ermer told me that the chairman had asked her to vote a certain way, and that she went along with the chairman’s request ... and that she understood that Mr. Brownlee had wanted her to vote that way because the governor backed this, and wanted to get it done.”
Pondexter had been appointed to the board by then-Gov. Bill Clinton, and was reappointed to a second term by Jim Guy Tucker. Associates says she’s a woman of deep principle, not readily dismissed as a partisan. Many of them know Pondexter — who in 1964 in Miller County led an effort to integrate a swimming lake that resulted in shootings of three black men and Pondexter’s jailing — as someone whose focus has been on civil rights issues, not partisan politics.
Pondexter was initially reluctant to speak with the Times, saying she feared friends of the governor might impair her career. She eventually was persuaded to give her account.
Said another former board member: “Anybody has to be really careful in a situation like this. This is a small state, and the governor or his supporters can make life uncomfortable not only for someone with a career in public life, but also in private business.”
A more outspoken former member of the board has been Suttlar, who was appointed to the board by then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, and who had previously been an aide to Tucker.
“For Governor Huckabee to say that he had no influence with the board is something that he knows to be untrue. He came before the board and made his views known that [Dumond] should have been paroled ... “
Suttlar noted that just prior to Huckabee’s appearance before the board the board had voted 4-1 against Dumond’s parole. After Huckabee’s board appearance, her colleagues largely reversed themselves, voting 4-1 for Dumond’s release.
“Why did all the votes change?” Suttlar asked. The board members knew the governor’s position. And Huckabee knows what influence a governor has over a board. Who’s going to turn down a governor?”
A board member, who only agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said, “We are not talking rocket science here. The board jobs are known to some degree [to be] political patronage, and they’re not the most difficult jobs for the pay.” Board members currently earn more than $70,000 a year.
“And then there’s the most obvious: If the governor likes you, you might get to keep your job.” One board who voted for Dumond, Railey Steele, was reappointed shortly before his vote. Brownlee was reappointed by Huckabee this year.
On Aug. 29, 1996, the parole board denied Dumond parole on a 4-1 vote. Dr. Charles Chastain voted for parole; August Pieroni, Railey Steele, Fred Allen and Suttlar voted against. Brownlee didn’t vote. (Chastain’s vote was part of a board custom of giving inmates one positive vote as an encouragement for good behavior.)
On Sept. 10, 1996, the board took another vote, going 5-0 against recommending executive clemency and 5-0 against recommending an executive pardon. The no votes were cast by Steele, Brownlee, Pieroni, Suttlar and Fred Allen.
On Sept. 20, Gov. Huckabee announced his intention to commute Wayne Dumond’s sentence to time served.
The governor and his staff were unprepared for the public outcry that followed his announcement that he was likely to free Dumond.
Under state law, the governor had to wait at least 30 days — but not more than 120 — after his Sept. 20 clemency announcement to allow the public, legislators, prosecutors, and other interested parties to present their views before he made a final decision. Huckabee was required to make a decision before Jan. 20, 1997. As it turned out, the board voted four days before the deadline to parole Dumond, sparing Huckabee from the decision.
Twenty women members of the state House of Representatives denounced the idea. A number of career and elected law enforcement officials — some privately, others publicly — announced that they opposed any commutation or pardon.
Huckabee’s announcement led to renewed interest by the media as well.
“It wasn’t so much that this had turned into a full-fledged firestorm for us,” said the state official who advised Huckabee. “It was thought of more in terms of the potential to be a firestorm for us.”
Huckabee was then new to his job — he’d been in office only a couple of months — and was fearful of his first stumble, the official said.
In an effort to stem the political fallout, Huckabee and his staff agreed to meet for the first time with Dumond’s victim, Ashley Stevens, her family, and Fletcher Long, the prosecuting attorney who sent Dumond to prison. In interviews, both Walter “Stevie” Stevens, Ashley’s father, and Long both said they came away frustrated that Huckabee knew so few specifics about the case.
“He [Huckabee] kept insisting that there was DNA evidence that has since exonerated Dumond, when that very much wasn’t the case,” recalled Long. “No matter that that wasn’t true … we couldn’t seem to say or do anything to disabuse him of that notion.”
In fact, there had never been any DNA testing in the Ashley Stevens case.
The state official who advised Huckabee on the Dumond case confirmed that the governor knew very little about Ashley Stevens’ case:
“I don’t believe that he had access to, or read, the law enforcement records or parole commission’s files — even by then,” the official said. “He already seemed to have made up his mind, and his knowledge of the case appeared to be limited to a large degree as to what people had told him, what Jay Cole had told him, and what he had read in the New York Post.”
Jay Cole, like Huckabee, is a Baptist minister, pastor for the Mission Fellowship Bible Church in Fayetteville and a close friend of the governor and his wife. On the ultra-conservative radio program he hosts, Cole has championed the cause of Wayne Dumond for more than a decade.
Cole has repeatedly claimed that Dumond’s various travails are the result of Ashley Stevens’ distant relationship to Bill Clinton.
The governor was also apparently relying on information he got from Steve Dunleavy, first as a correspondent for the tabloid television show “A Current Affair” and later as a columnist for the New York Post.
Much of what Dunleavy has written about the Dumond saga has been either unverified or is demonstrably untrue. Dunleavy has all but accused Ashley Stevens of having fabricated her rape, derisively referring to her in one column as a “so-called victim,” and brusquely asserting in another, “That rape never happened.”
The columnist wrote that Dumond was a “Vietnam veteran with no record” when in fact he did have a criminal record. He claimed there existed DNA evidence by “one of the most respected DNA experts in the country” to exonerate Dumond, even though there was no such evidence. He wrote that Bill Clinton had personally intervened to keep Dumond in prison, even though Clinton had recused himself in 1990 from any involvement in the case because of his distant relationship with Stevens.
“The problem with the governor is that he listens to Jay Cole and reads Steve Dunleavy and believes them ... without doing other substantative work,” the state official said.
Had Huckabee examined in detail the parole board’s files regarding Dumond, he would have known Dumond had compiled a lengthy criminal resume.
In 1972, Dumond was arrested in the beating death of a man in Oklahoma. Dumond was not charged in that case after agreeing to testify for the prosecution against two others. But he admitted on the witness stand that he was among those who struck the murder victim with a claw hammer.
In 1973, Dumond was arrested and placed on probation for five years for admitting in Oregon to molesting a teen-age girl in the parking lot of a shopping center.
Three years later, according to Arkansas State Police records, Dumond admitted to raping an Arkansas woman. (Dumond later repudiated the confession, saying he was coerced by police.) Dumond was never formally charged in that case; the woman, saying she feared for her life, did not press charges. (See sidebar.)
The meeting Huckabee had with Ashley Stevens and her family only made matters worse for the governor, energizing Stevens and her family to tell their story to anybody who would listen.
Huckabee “ let us know that he was set on his course, which was to set Dumond free,” Long said.
Ashley Stevens says she told the governor: “This is how close I was to Wayne Dumond. I will never forget his face. And now I don’t want you ever to forget my face.”
Huckabee’s deadline to act on Dumond’s commutation was Jan. 20, 1997. Four days earlier, the parole board freed Dumond instead.
What happened to prompt the turn of events?
According to the state official who advised Huckabee, the governor found a way to achieve his goal to release Dumond, but with some political cover provided by the parole board.
“It would not have necessarily been a vote for parole,” the official said. “I think we would have been grateful for even a close vote.” At the end of the entire process, he says, “we never thought we could extract from the board what we ended up with.”
On Oct. 31, 1996, Huckabee met with the parole board. Huckabee has categorically denied that he supported the Dumond parole during the closed portion of the meeting, but four current and former board members tell the Times that Huckabee in fact did so.
The minutes of the Oct. 31, 1996, open meeting provide no detail as to what transpired.
The minutes simply state: “Governor Mike Huckabee and the board went into executive session. The board appreciates the governor meeting with them to discuss his and other concerns regarding criminal justice and rehabilitation and sharing his viewpoints on other issues.”
Present at the meeting were Brownlee, Chastain, Allen, Pieroni and Suttlar.
Chastain, Suttlar and two other board members who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Huckabee made it known that he favored a commutation of Dumond’s sentence.
All four also said it was when Huckabee brought up the subject that the chairman, Brownlee, closed the meeting to the press.
They further contradicted Huckabee’s later claims that it was Chastain and not Huckabee who first raised the Dumond issue.
“It was thought to be a routine meeting,” Chastain recalled. “Huckabee said, ‘There is this one case I want to talk to you about.’ ”
Brownlee then had the board go into executive session, Chastain said. “The governor commented that Wayne Dumond had received, from his perspective, a raw deal, that he was someone from the wrong side of the tracks ... and that he had received what he thought was too long a sentence for that type of crime.”
Suttlar also said Brownlee closed the meeting after Huckabee raised the Dumond case.
Huckabee and his spokesman Rex Nelson have also claimed that any mention of the Dumond matter at the October meeting was fleeting, but Chastain and other board members dispute that. They say the remarks were substantive.
Chastain provided the following account of an exchange with Huckabee.
“The governor felt strongly that Dumond had gotten a raw deal,” Chastain recalled. “He said the sentence was awfully excessive for what he did. “I said, ‘Governor, well that happens. When you rape a cheerleader in a small town like that, that’s what is going to happen.’ He responded, ‘Most people don’t get a life sentence plus 20 years.’ I pointed out that his sentence had already been reduced to 39 1/2 years and said, ‘That’s not really out of line at all.’
Most of the other board members remained silent, as he and the governor argued over the issue. “I got the impression that no one wanted to argue with the governor,” Chastain said.
Suttlar, Chastain, Pondexter and a fourth board member also question the propriety of the board going into a closed-door session to discuss the issue.
“The board is supposed to be autonomous,” Suttlar asserted. “Whenever we all come together, the public is supposed to be notified by law. And we should have never been in executive session with a governor about anything.”
The board’s executive session appears to have been a violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which says state boards may meet privately only for the “specific purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of any public officer or employee.”
Says another board member: “Some of us were taken aback when the chairman took us into executive session. ... He should have known better than to do that, and presumably most of us knew better as well ... you can’t do that. The only reason a state board can ever go into executive session is to discuss personnel matters.”
In response to questions from the Times regarding whether the board violated the FOIA by meeting in executive session, the board provided this written response:
“It was a new governor meeting with a board he had not appointed. At no time was this meeting meant to circumvent the state’s FOIA laws.”
Rex Nelson, the governor’s spokesman, has said that the meeting might have in fact contravened the FOIA, but said it was the chairman’s decision to have the board meet in executive session, and the governor was not familiar enough with the statute to object.
Suttlar told the Times that she and other board members did not object to Brownlee taking the board into executive session, and covered for the chairman as well, because they were, for the most part, friends with him, and did not want to embarrass him.
“And so when the press called and wanted to know why Mr. Brownlee wanted to go into executive session, we said we didn’t know why,” Suttlar said. “We couldn’t answer that question. What were we going to say? That he was protecting the governor? That’s exactly what it was. The governor started talking about Dumond, so Mr. Brownlee knew that was inappropriate and he went into executive session in order to allow the governor to speak without the press being there.”
Despite the fact that the meeting was closed, there still should have been a record of it, four former board members and a former staffer say. They say that Sharon Hansberry, the board’s office administrator, ordinarily attends the meeting and takes notes. It was also a common practice around that time, they say, for her to tape record the meetings as well, even though the tapes were often destroyed once the minutes were formalized.
Former members of the board say that Hansberry was asked to leave the room when the board went into executive session. A spokesman for the board says that there is no record of what occurred in the executive session — no tape recording of the executive session, or notes, or minutes.
Board chairman Leroy Brownlee then took a series of additional highly unusual steps that would allow Wayne Dumond to gain his freedom.
On Nov. 29, 1996, Dumond sent a request for reconsideration to the board, board records show. The request was received Dec. 2 at its offices. Ordinarily, inmates have to wait a full year from their last hearing to go before the board again. In Dumond’s case, his next hearing would have been scheduled for Aug. 29, 1997.
For an inmate to obtain a new board hearing under such circumstances, at least one board member must approve his request for reconsideration. If the petition request is approved by the first board member who reads it, a hearing is then usually scheduled, and there is no further vote.
If, however, the petition request is disapproved by the first board member who reads it, then it is passed around to other board members who vote, until a majority of board members either supports or disapproves of reconsideration.
Leroy Brownlee was the first person to review Dumond’s request, a board spokesman said. Brownlee made the decision approving the petition for reconsideration by himself, the spokesperson added. Because he had approved Dumond’s request, no other members of the board were provided with a copy to review for themselves. There is no written record in the parole board’s files, however, as ordinarily there should be, showing that Brownlee or any other board member approved Dumond’s petition for reconsideration.
The board has told the Times it’s possible such a document has been lost in the past five years, when the Dumond file has been examined many times. “It is possible that the document has been misplaced, if it ever existed.”
Brownlee continued to take a personal interest in Dumond’s case, according to previously undisclosed parole board records, and former and current board members.
On Jan. 9, 1997, Brownlee personally interviewed Dumond at the Tucker prison unit. Brownlee then recommended to the full board that Dumond be paroled, on the condition that Dumond leave Arkansas.
Three former and current members of the board say Brownlee has rarely conducted an inmate interview in preparation for a full board review. But a spokesman for the board said that although it’s rare today for Brownlee to conduct inmate interviews, it was not in 1997, because the board had fewer full-time members than it does today.
Brownlee’s interview and his recommendation to parole Dumond paved the way for the full board to hold a hearing Jan. 16.
The timing of the board’s action could have not been better for the governor. Had the board not acted on Jan. 16, Huckabee would have had to announce his own decision on Dumond Jan. 20.
Another move made the Dumond parole hearing possible.
On Dec. 19, 1996, Dumond was transferred from the Varner prison unit to the Tucker unit. Had he stayed at Varner, Dumond would not have been interviewed by Brownlee on Jan. 9, nor would he have had his parole reconsidered by the full board on Jan. 16. That’s because the board only considers paroles for inmates from certain prisons during particular sessions.
Had Dumond stayed at Varner, he would not have been eligible for a parole hearing before the board until long after Gov. Huckabee’s Jan. 20 deadline. Asked whether the parole board would have considered Dumond’s parole on Jan. 16 had he still been at Varner instead of Tucker, a spokesperson provided the Times with this written response: “While the PPTB members do not know what inmates will be seen at any hearings/screenings, the PPTB members do not know what inmates will be seen at any given unit at any given time.”
Department of Corrections officials insist that it was pure serendipity for Huckabee that Dumond was transferred from Varner to Tucker. “Wayne Dumond was moved for institutional reasons,” says Department of Corrections spokesperson Dina Tyler. “We move inmates day and night — based on conditions, needs, jobs, and other reasons. Wayne Dumond was a routine movement.”
George Brewer, an administrator with Corrections who handled the logistics of Dumond’s transfer, told the Times that he made the transfer after being told to by the warden of Varner:
“It was at the request of the warden,” Brewer said in an interview. “Dumond was one of a bunch of clerks who had become a clique. As clerks, they had access to files about inmates and other things going on around the prison ... If two or three start working together, they can use the information they have to manipulate the system.”
Brewer said the Varner warden Rick Toney told him: “I’ve got to bust up the clique. I’ve got to bust up my clerks. Dumond’s one of them.” Brewer says he then transferred Dumond to the Tucker unit. Toney declined to be interviewed for this article.
This new explanation for Dumond’s transfer differs substantially from reasons given in the past. In January 1997, State Corrections Director Larry Norris wrote to state House Speaker Bobby Hogue of Jonesboro denying that the transfer was made to allow the board to expedite a parole hearing. Norris asserted that Dumond was moved for security concerns, “including allegations made by inmate Dumond about his personal safety.”
The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported around that time that unnamed corrections officials told the newspaper Dumond’s transfer was the result of a routine request from Dumond so that he could change prison jobs. Dumond was said to have wanted to take a job working in a factory constructing buses at Tucker.
The parole board denied to the Times that Brownlee or any other member of the board was involved in bringing about Dumond’s transfer to Tucker. In a written statement, a spokesman said: “The PPTB does not have the authority to effect the transfer of any inmate within the Arkansas Department of Corrections.”
However, in the two weeks just prior to Dumond’s Jan. 16 parole hearing, Brownlee had at least three telephone conversations with Butch Reeves, the governor’s liaison for Corrections, according to the advisor to Huckabee and a second state employee.
During those discussions, the advisor says, Brownlee expressed frustration that the hearing was likely to be delayed because Dumond was incarcerated at Varner.
In response to questions by the Times regarding those three conversations, a spokesperson for the parole board said: “Communication between Butch Reeves and Chairman Brownlee was frequent during that time span. However, it is impossible to remember the content of any conversation that took place five years ago.”
The same sources say that Brownlee and Reeves discussed the Dumond matter on numerous other occasions during the months preceding Dumond’s parole hearing, although one source said that Reeves simply listened to what Brownlee had to tell him, and passed it on to the governor.
A spokesperson for the board confirmed those numerous contacts, saying they “were simply a matter of routine business.” But she refused to confirm or deny whether Dumond was discussed: “The topics of those conversations have long been forgotten in the ensuing years.”
Reeves did not respond to repeated telephone calls seeking his comment for this story.
For its part, the governor’s office has repeatedly denied a role in Dumond’s transfer from the Varner to Tucker units.
But one state official says that it had “become virtually a routine constituent service” for Huckabee’s office to request inmate transfers on behalf of the families of inmates. The same source says: “If a warden gets a call from the governor’s mansion, they’re just not going to think there is anything untoward ... and try and accommodate it.”
Even George Brewer, the corrections official who personally handled the Dumond transfer — who says that the warden of Varner asked him to transfer Dumond for a routine reason — says the governor’s office, either by direct request or by forwarding family member requests, seeks inmate transfers at least once a week. Says Brewer: “They’re usually routine referrals, like ‘I got a momma calling me. She’s real upset that they’re not moving her son.’ That type of thing.”
Voting Jan. 16 to parole Dumond were Brownlee, Steele, Allen and Pondexter. Chastain voted against parole. Suttlar and Pieroni, who had voted against Dumond’s parole the previous August, abstained.
Railey Steele’s vote surprised many board members. Steele had been one of the most hard-line board members, rejecting parole more often than most of his fellow commissioners, and at times openly dismissive of members Chastain, Pondexter, and Suttlar, who were seen as more sympathetic.
Says Chastain: “It was kind of a role reversal for [Steele and me]. He always thought that I was much too lenient ... and for that reason, often times had little use for me.”
Steele, who died in October 2000, had been a mayor of Gentry, a Benton County judge from 1975 to 1979 and served two terms in the state legislature from 1991 to 1995.
Though Steele later denied his vote was political, one former board member said Railey “almost approached the job as if he were still a legislator. That was his background. But that’s not how we’re supposed to serve. We’re supposed to set aside politics, because we make decisions regarding the legal system and public safety.
“Railey took calls from state legislators. He took calls from influential people in the community. He continued acting as the pol that he had been most of his career.”
Just three days before the vote, Huckabee reappointed Steele — named to the board by Huckabee’s Democratic predecessor Jim Guy Tucker — to the parole board. The move raised eyebrows at the time, since governors usually appoint friends and political allies to the board. Huckabee also reappointed Brownlee, who once served as secretary of the state Democratic Party, on Feb. 28, 2002, to another seven-year term.
Though he’s distancing himself from the accused murderer today, the record has long been clear that Huckabee was an advocate of Dumond’s freedom.
On the day of the vote, Huckabee released a statement in support of the board’s action: “I concur with the board’s action and hope the lives of all those involved can move forward. The action of the board accomplishes what I sought to do in considering an earlier request for commutation ...
“In light of the action of the board, my original intent to commute the sentence to time served is no longer relevant.”
Huckabee’s office then released a letter to Dumond denying his application for a pardon.
“Dear Wayne,” Huckabee wrote, “I have reviewed your applications for executive clemency, specifically a commutation and/or pardon. ... My desire is that you be released from prison. I feel now that parole is the best way for your reintegration into society. ... Therefore, after careful consideration ... I have denied your applications.”
Huckabee was able to achieve what he wanted to do in the first place: Release Dumond from prison with no apparent political cost to the governor. The public was told that Dumond was paroled solely due to an autonomous decision by the Post Prison Transfer Board.
Later in January 1996, Brownlee denied that the governor had interfered with the vote and told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “This was the first time that Dumond had ever submitted a solid release plan.” He had told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal the same thing.
In fact, according to a spokesman for the parole board, Dumond had submitted a parole plan in August 1994, January 1995, and August 1995. The August 1994 and August 1995 plans include a request to move to Texas. Dumond did not submit any additional materials in support of his parole application between Aug. 29, 1996, when he was turned down for parole, and the board vote of Jan. 16, 1997.
A spokesperson for the parole board noted that “it is possible letters of protest or of support were received during that time span, but no support documentation was submitted by Mr. Dumond.”
Murray Waas is an investigative reporter who has been a winner of the Goldsmith Prize and a 1993 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He was assisted in the reporting of this article by Bryan Keefer.
Juanita's, the venerable Tex-Mex restaurant and music venue, is leaving the South Main Street location it's called home since 1986 for the River Market and the former home of Bill St., 614 President Clinton Ave.