Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's record of freeing criminals from prison was controversial even before news that the man sought for questioning in the killing of four Lakewood police officers had a lengthy prison sentence commuted by Huckabee.



Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s record of freeing criminals from prison was controversial even before news that the man sought for questioning in the killing of four Lakewood police officers had a lengthy prison sentence commuted by Huckabee.

The one-time Republican presidential contender granted twice as many pardons and commutations as the previous three governors of Arkansas combined, The Associated Press reported in 2007.

In all, he issued 1,033 pardons and commutations during more than 10 years as governor — an average of about one every four days.

Maurice Clemmons, the man police were searching for Sunday night, faced decades in prison for robberies and other charges when his sentence was commuted by Huckabee in 2000. Clemmons later was sent back to prison after violating parole, but was released again five years ago.

Clemmons was released from jail in Pierce County six days ago after posting bond. He’d spent the past several months in jail on a charge of child rape. His release came even though he faced seven additional felony charges in Washington state.

Huckabee issued a written statement Sunday night through his daughter and spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee, saying the “senseless and savage execution” of the police officers “has saddened the nation.”

If Clemmons is found to be responsible, Huckabee’s statement said, “it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington state.”

The statement said Clemmons had been recommended for commutation and that his release was approved by the state parole board.

Huckabee noted that Clemmons later was arrested for parole violations but was released after prosecutors failed to press new charges that could have kept him in prison.

“It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state. This is a horrible and tragic event and if found and convicted the offender should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Huckabee’s clemencies became a campaign issue when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination last year. He was criticized by prosecutors and political rivals for releasing prisoners who went on to commit more crimes.

“It’s a crying shame that a sitting governor would be so insensitive to victims’ rights,” Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley told an Arkansas newspaper, The Leader, in 2004.

In one high-profile case, castrated rapist Wayne DuMond was set free by the Arkansas parole board at Huckabee’s urging, according to news accounts. DuMond later suffocated a mother of three in Missouri and was sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2005.

A Southern Baptist preacher, Huckabee sometimes was motivated to release prisoners at the urging of pastors or other acquaintances, according to news accounts.

His clemencies also benefitted the stepson of a staff member, and even Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who received a pardon for a 1975 traffic offense. Huckabee, who sometimes jammed on the bass guitar with his band at campaign events, pardoned Richards after meeting him at a concert.

In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” — before the news about Clemmons was out — Huckabee said he was leaning slightly against running for president in 2012.

Times reporter Susan Kelleher and researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which also includes material from The Associated Press.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com