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Huckabee defends clemency decision for cop shooting suspect

From Drew Griffin, CNN
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Huckabee on clemency decision
  • Ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says he can't look into future
  • Arkansas parolee suspected of having killed four police officers in Washington state
  • Huckabee says he didn't think 108-year sentence was right for then-16-year-old
  • Maurice Clemmons was violent even while in custody, ex-prosecutor says

Jacksonville, Florida (CNN) -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he was aware of Maurice Clemmons' long and violent criminal history when he commuted his 108-year prison sentence, but he couldn't have foreseen the deadly consequence of his act.

"You're looking at this nine years later and trying to make something as if I can look into the future," Huckabee said Wednesday before a speech at Jacksonville University.

"I wish I could have. Good Lord, I wish I had that power. I wish I could have done that. But I don't know how anyone can do it," he said.

Police fatally shot Clemmons, 37, on Tuesday in Seattle, Washington, after a two-day manhunt that began after he allegedly killed four officers at a coffee shop.

Huckabee, a prospective 2012 GOP presidential candidate, has come under fire because, as Arkansas governor in 2000, he signed a clemency order for Clemmons. The move made Clemmons eligible for parole, which was granted.

The ex-governor said he was aware of the long string of crimes that had put Clemmons behind bars, but based his decision on the defendant's age at the time: 16.

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"I read a stack this thick," Huckabee said, holding his hands several inches apart. "I looked at the file. Every bit of it. And here was a case where a guy had been given 108 years. Now, if you think a 108-year sentence is an appropriate sentence for a 16-year-old for the crimes he committed, then you should run for governor of Arkansas."

Clemmons served 11 years of his sentence before being released.

Clemmons moved from Washington to Arkansas as a youngster. There, he had several run-ins with the law, and eventually received the hefty prison sentence for a host of charges -- including robberies, burglaries, thefts and bringing a gun to school.

During a pretrial hearing, he hid a piece of metal in his sock, court documents said. Before the start of another hearing, he grabbed a padlock off his holding cell and threw it at a court bailiff. He missed, and the lock hit his mother, who had come to bring him clothes.

"That's the one word that came to my mind that I remembered about him, was that he was mean," said W.A. McCormick, a deputy prosecuting attorney at the time. "He was shackled in court and deputies placed behind him while he was tried because he was such a security risk."

Clemmons continued to lash out violently behind the prison fences in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

"Over and over again," said Larry Jegley, the prosecutor who put Clemmons away.

"Failure to obey, engaging in sexual activity," he rattled off the charges as he flipped through Clemmons' prison record, "failure to obey, possession or introduction of drugs, firearms."

McCormick said he told the parole board -- repeatedly, in writing -- that Clemmons should remain in prison. And he would have opposed it once again if he had known that Huckabee was considering commuting Clemmons' sentence.

Watch what Washington's governor has to say about Huckabee

During his 2008 presidential bid, Huckabee was criticized for granting clemency to another inmate, convicted rapist Wayne DuMond.

DuMond later was convicted of raping and murdering a woman in Missouri.

In a statement earlier this week on the conservative news Web site, Huckabee said, "I take full responsibility for my actions of nine years ago. I acted on the facts presented to me in 2000. If I could have possibly known what Clemmons would do nine years later, I obviously would have made a different decision. But if the same file was presented to me today, I would have likely made the same decision."

Before saying he accepted responsibility, Huckabee first blamed Clemmons' alleged actions Sunday on failings in both Arkansas' and Washington's legal systems.

But Jegley pointed the finger at Huckabee. One survey, he said, showed Huckabee issued more clemencies from 1996 to 2004 than the governors of all six surrounding states, including Texas.

"He needs to bear responsibility for that," Jegley said of the former governor's decision to grant clemency to Clemmons.

"We did everything that we could do with him and got him sentenced to 108 years. Mike Huckabee, with the stroke of a pen, undid that."