Chaos has broken out in Mississippi, after Haley Barbour, the state's popular Republican governor, issued a "shocking" wave of pardons this week before leaving office at the end of his second term. Democrats were outraged, and a judge stepped in late Wednesday to keep some of the prisoners behind bars. Here, a brief guide to the mess Barbour left behind:
Who were all the people Barbour pardoned?
Barbour granted full pardons or clemency to about 200 people, including convicted shoplifters, rapists, burglars, and embezzlers — plus 14 murderers. The roster included several high-profile convicts, including socialite Karen Irby and Earnest Scott Favre, older brother of retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, both convicted of DUI-related deaths.
What was Barbour's rationale?
Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman who flirted with a presidential run last year, says the uproar is overblown, since 90 percent of the people pardoned were already out of prison. "The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote," Barbour said.
So why the uproar?
It's mostly about the 26 people who were still in prison. Of particular concern are four murderers who have already been set free. The men — David Gatlin, Joseph Ozment, Charles Hooker, and Anthony McCray — were serving life sentences, but had been working as "inmate trustees" at the governor's mansion, a privilege granted for good behavior. State Attorney General Jim Hood complained that Barbour had violated the Mississippi Constitution by failing to give the public 30 days' notice before these criminals were pardoned. State law also requires governors to notify victims and their families in advance of a pardon, to give them time to comment. "He's tried to rule the state like Boss Hogg," Hood tells CNN, "and didn't think the law applied to him."
Will the murderers remain free?
Yes, at least for now. That has Hood worried. Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green ordered the released murderers to stay in constant contact with state officials until a Jan. 23 hearing on the case. Hood says he might launch a nationwide manhunt if they disappear. Randy Walker, a woman who survived a gunshot wound to the head on the day Gatlin killed his wife, says she fears for her safety. "I wonder if he's going to finish what he's started."
What happens next?
Judge Green says the 21 pardoned inmates who hadn't been set free yet will remain behind bars until their pardons meet the public notification requirement. And if Green finds that the four murderers were improperly released, they might have to return to prison to serve out their sentences, Hood says. In the meantime, Democrats in the state legislature have introduced a bill that would curtail governors' power to grant pardons.
Does this taint Barbour's legacy?
Barbour's liberal use of the pardoning pen was certainly unprecedented — the previous high for a Mississippi governor was 13. Many of the cases might not prove controversial once the details are made known, experts say. But for now, Mississippians are shocked. "It seems to kind of fly in the face of the Haley Barbour politician that we all know," Ole Miss journalism professor Curtis Wilkie tells The Christian Science Monitor, "because he is a strong law-and-order guy."