Governor Huckabee is being criticized because he has pardoned and commuted a lot of convicts.
Records in the secretary of state's office show that the governor has issued 567 pardons and 102 commutations since he has been in office. A reporter for the Democrat-Gazette waded through 2,500 proclamations in the secretary of state's office and discovered that only Govs. Orval Faubus and Winthrop Rockefeller had commuted more sentences than Huckabee.
Records of pardons don't go back any farther than Rockefeller, and Huckabee's 567 leads the list. Clinton was next with 351, followed by Rockefeller 151, Pryor 103, Bumpers 81, White 35 and Tucker 32. Last week the Leader newspaper in Jacksonville added the two figures and said that Huckabee had put 669 persons out of prison, the largest number of any governor since Rockefeller.
We have to remember that the Arkansas prison system was cruel and outmoded in the days of Faubus and Rockefeller, and Rockefeller was against capital punishment and commuted the death penalty for those on death row. Still, Huckabee's record is so high that Arkansas families who have been victims of serious crimes and fear that the offender might be quickly turned loose insist that prosecuting attorneys try the offender for the maximum punishment, according to Larry Jegley, the Pulaski County prosecutor. This is sometimes unfair to the offender and unpopular with juries.
What Jegley finds interesting is that in the years when Huckabee was running for re-election, he was commuting sentences on the average of 5 percent a month. Now in years when he isn't running for office, Huckabee is granting requests at the rate of 14 percent a month.
Jegley and several other prosecuting attorneys have criticized Huckabee's pardons and commutations of violent offenders. He and Robert Herzfeld, Saline County prosecutor, have proposed changes in the process of clemency laws and have sent them to legislators: Make public the case files and recommendations calling for clemency and require the governor to make public the reasons why he thinks an inmate deserves it. Herzfield proposes that all documents and actions would be open to the public under the state Freedom of Information Act and that any data given to the board found to be false would cause the board to reject any consideration of clemency for four years.
These are good ideas. Legislators should put them high on their lists and turn them into laws at their next session to make governors and members of the parole board careful in deciding to let people out of jail before their sentences are up. Many prosecuting attorneys can tell you about commuted inmates who have quickly returned to crime.
Of course, Huckabee is a preacher by trade, and we count on ministers to help those who maybe have been treated unfairly or have reformed. But the unfairness has to be proved, and what little has been said about the newest inmate Huckabee plans to release is not at all convincing.
The governor intends to reduce the life sentence of Glen Martin Green, a former airman at the Little Rock Air Force Base who confessed and was found guilty of killing an 18-year-old pregnant woman and was sentenced to life in prison. Green was only 22 when the crime was committed in 1974. The members of the parole board voted unanimously not to release Green, but in Arkansas the governor has the last word.
Huckabee refuses to discuss commutations and why he thinks they are needed, but he apparently made his decision in this case after listening to a 30-year friend of his, the Rev. Johnny Jackson, an interim pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Jacksonville who says he has been a spiritual adviser to Green. Jackson calls Green "a poster boy of rehabilitation" and believes that Green had accidentally run over the woman in his car, got scared and took her body to Lonoke County and dumped it in the Twin Prairie Bayou.
However, Jacksonville policemen who handled the case say that Green tried to rape the woman, who was on the base waiting to see her boyfriend. When she fought back, Green hit her, threw her in his car, drove to an isolated place in Lonoke County, ran his car over her and threw her body into the bayou.
A picture that shows a hand floating on the water was printed on the front page of last week's edition of the Jacksonville Leader along with a column by the publisher, Garrick Feldman, who wrote: "Who would free a madman who beat an 18-year-old woman with Chinese martial-art sticks, raped her as she barely clung to life, ran over her with his car, then dumped her in the bayou, her hand reaching up, as if begging for mercy?"