The families of eight murder victims are outraged and onlookers dumbfounded as outgoing Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour pardoned seven men convicted of murder and one convicted of manslaughter during his final days in office, according to The Clarion-Ledger. The newspaper reports that survivors and family members of victims now want to mandate that a governor has to hear from them before he let's killers go free.
"If the governor has the right to singlehandedly circumvent the entire justice system, he should have to at least look the family (of a victim) in the eye," Randy Walker, who was wounded by one of the men Barbour pardoned last week, told the Clarion-Ledger. "This is the coward's way out."
Relatives of three victims told The Associated Press on Monday that state corrections officials notified them over the weekend that the convicts were to be released this past Sunday. Barbour was extremely popular during his two terms as governor of the Magnolia State, and has held considerable influence in national GOP matters. Barbour had even considered running for president in 2012. In 2010, a POLITICO profile labeled Gov. Barbour as "currently the most powerful Republican in American politics," based on his prolific fundraising and ability as a strategist.
Family members of the victims killed by the men Barbour pardoned are shocked by the governor's actions.
Tiffany Ellis Brewer, sister of Tammy Ellis Gatlin, told The Associated Press that David Gatlin's release revived the grief for her family.
"It's liked it's happened all over again to us," Brewer said. "We can't do anything about our situation now because he's out, he's gone. But I don't want anyone in this world to feel the fear, the pain and the hurt that our families are feeling right now. Something needs to be done."
David Gatlin was convicted of killing his estranged wife in 1993, and shooting Randy Walker, her longtime friend.
"I'm totally disgusted," Walker, who survived the shooting, said Monday. "I think Gov. Barbour at heart is a great man. I think he's done a lot of good for the state of Mississippi, but I think he's made a huge error here.... One man can't put you in jail. I don't think it's right for one man to remove you from jail."
According to The Clarion-Ledger, all eight convicted killers that Barbour pardoned had served part of their sentence in the Governor's Mansion as trustees, a privilege awarded to well-behaved prisoners that allows them to live and work in the mansion. The newspaper notes that it is a custom in Mississippi for governors to pardon such trustees.
The L.A. Times reports that criticisms of Gov. Barbour's actions have come from Democrats in addition to family members of victims. State Rep. Bobby Moak said in a news conference Monday that his fellow Democrats in the Statehouse would introduce a bill that would regulate gubernatorial pardons, and another planned bill that would prevent convicts convicted of capital murder from serving in the governor's mansion.
CNN has video on the growing controversy in Mississippi, including gripping comments from family members of victims: