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Suspect in police shootings pledged to turn life around

Police are calling Maurice Clemmons, 37, a suspect in the fatal shooting of four officers on Sunday near Tacoma, Washington.
Police are calling Maurice Clemmons, 37, a suspect in the fatal shooting of four officers on Sunday near Tacoma, Washington.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maurice Clemmons told Arkansas governor crimes brought shame to family
  • Then 27, he had spent 11 years in prison for robbery, burglary, theft
  • He is suspected in Sunday's shooting deaths of four police officers
  • Incident may be "result of a series of failures," says ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee's office

Seattle, Washington (CNN) -- Nearly 10 years ago, Maurice Clemmons pledged to make a fresh start.

"I come from a very good Christian family and I was raised much better than my actions speak," Clemmons said in a clemency application brief to then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2000. "I'm still ashamed to this day for the shame my stupid involvement in these crimes brought upon my family's name."

Clemmons was 27. He'd spent the past 11 years in an Arkansas prison, convicted of offenses including robbery, burglary, theft and taking a gun to school. He was facing a 95-year sentence.

A decade later, Clemmons is the subject of an intense manhunt in Washington state, suspected in the deaths of four Lakewood, Washington, police officers who were shot to death Sunday as they met in a coffee shop before starting their shifts. Authorities have said Clemmons is believed to have entered the Forza Coffee Company and opened fire on the officers with no warning.

Police tracked Clemmons to an east Seattle home Sunday night, but after a standoff that stretched to nearly 12 hours, they entered the home and found that he was not there.

In 2000, Clemmons told Huckabee that the crimes occurred when he was 16, had just moved to Arkansas from Seattle and had fallen in with the wrong crowd.

"Where once stood a young 16-year-old misguided fool ... now stands a 27-year-old man, who has learned through the 'school of hard knocks' to appreciate and respect the rights of others," his petition to Huckabee said.

Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence in 2000, citing his young age at the time of sentencing, making him eligible for parole. It was granted in July 2000, after he told Arkansas parole officials that he "just wants the opportunity" and "is not the same person he was when he came in," the documents said.

"It was not something I was pleased with at the time," said Larry Jegley, who prosecuted Clemmons for aggravated robbery and other charges in Pulaski County, Arkansas, regarding the commutation. "I would be most distressed if this is the same guy."

Video: Suspect eludes police
Video: Clemmons home searched
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In 1989, as he was being prosecuted, Clemmons demonstrated violent behavior; he hid a piece of metal in his sock at a pretrial hearing, and before the start of another hearing he grabbed a padlock off his holding cell and threw it at a court bailiff. He missed and instead struck his mother, who had come to bring him clothes.

In his 2000 brief to Huckabee, Clemmons said his mother had died while he had been in prison, providing him with further motivation to turn his life around.

"I have never done anything good for God, but I've prayed for him to grant me in his compassion the grace to make a start," he said. "Now, I'm humbly appealing to you for a brand new start."

But after receiving a second chance, Clemmons was apparently unable to stay on the right side of the law, according to documents and authorities in Arkansas and Washington.

Arkansas parole board documents show that he was back in prison by September 2001. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that he was arrested for aggravated robbery and theft and taken back to prison on a parole violation. The paper said he was not served with the new arrest warrants for the robbery and theft charges until he was paroled three years later in 2004. His attorney argued that the charges should be dismissed because too much time had passed, and prosecutors complied.

Huckabee went on to become a 2008 Republican presidential candidate and has not ruled out a second try for the White House in 2012. In a statement Sunday night, his office said Clemmons' commutation was based on the recommendation of the parole board that determined that he met the conditions for early release.

Read the clemency documents for Clemmons

"He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him," the statement said.

"Should he be found responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington state."

During his candidacy, Huckabee faced criticism in the case of convicted rapist Wayne DuMond, who was paroled in 1999. He had been sentenced to life for raping a 17-year-old girl.

In his first term as governor, Huckabee expressed support for DuMond's release in a letter to him.

Less than a year after his release, DuMond was accused of raping and murdering Carol Shields of Kansas City, Missouri. DuMond was convicted in 2003 and died in prison in 2005. Shields' mother, Lois Davidson, said in 2007 that she planned to campaign against Huckabee.

Clemmons is believed to have moved to Washington in 2004. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department said in a statement that he was recently charged in the assault of a police officer and rape of a child. County court records posted online show that he spent several months in jail and was released on $150,000 bail Tuesday, days before the shootings.

For a while after moving to Washington, Clemmons ran a pressure-washing and landscaping business. The license for the business expired last month, according to the secretary of state, with whom businesses have to register.

In recent months, Clemmons has displayed increasingly erratic behavior, the Seattle Times reported. In May, he punched a sheriff's deputy in the face, the paper said. In another incident, he had relatives undress, telling them that families need to be "naked for at least five minutes on Sunday," the newspaper said, citing a sheriff's department incident report.

Clemmons also believed that he was Jesus and could fly, a deputy wrote, based on conversations with family members.

The night before the shootings, Clemmons had threatened to kill police officers, but authorities did not learn of the threats until after the shooting, Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer told "Good Morning America."

"There's not going to be a big motive other than he was upset about being incarcerated and was going to go gunning after cops in general," Troyer said.

CNN's Mary Snow contributed to this report.

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