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Outgoing Mississippi governor issues nearly 200 pardons

By Vivian Kuo, CNN
updated 11:23 PM EST, Tue January 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "We will live in fear for the rest of our lives," says a victim's sister
  • Gov. Barbour grants full pardons to 14 convicted murderers in his final days
  • He also grants clemency to convicted shoplifters, rapists, burglars and embezzlers

(CNN) -- In his last days in office, outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour approved full pardons for 199 people, including 14 convicted murderers, according to documents released by the Mississippi Secretary of State's office Tuesday.

Barbour, who served eight years in office, had previously granted full pardons to three other convicted killers in 2008. Another three were awarded conditional or indefinite releases during his time in office -- meaning that the governor, in total, granted reprieves to 20 convicted murderers, the documents showed.

Since the conservative former governor took office in 2004, 222 people were granted clemency for crimes that range the gamut. Those who have been granted full pardons include: shoplifters, rapists, burglars, and embezzlers.

There were also a number who were found guilty of either manslaughter or homicide, who were given unconditional pardons. According to the documents, others were given conditional suspensions of sentences based on medical conditions.

Barbour's spokeswoman declined Tuesday to comment on the pardons, which sparked outrage among victims' families.

Four men who were convicted of murder and received full pardons last week were released Sunday, said Suzanne Singletary, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections. David Gatlin, Joseph Ozment, Charles Hooker and Anthony McCray were all serving life sentences and worked as inmate trusties at the governor's mansion, she said.

Trusties are inmates who can receive additional rights through good behavior.

"It is at any governor's discretion," said Singletary.

Gatlin was convicted of murder, aggravated assault and burglary of a residence, she said. Ozment was convicted of murder, conspiracy and armed robbery in a separate case. Both inmates were at minimum security level, she said.

Hooker was convicted in a 1991 murder, while McCray was convicted in a 2001 murder, Singletary said.

Families of the victims killed by these men expressed outraged at Barbour's decision to let them go free.

In 1993, Gatlin walked into the trailer where his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis Gatlin, lived and shot her in the head. The woman's friend, Randy Walker, survived a gunshot to the head.

"In my heart, I would hope he (Barbour) did not know all the facts ... because if he did, we had a monster for a governor," said Tiffany Brewer, Tammy Gatlin's sister.

She said her sister had her baby with her at the time of the shooting. The child survived.

"We will live in fear for the rest of our lives. There's an 18-year-old child that has to live the rest of his life, and we will live in fear for him," Brewer told CNN.

Tammy Gatlin's mother, Betty Ellis, said she still feels heartache every time she tells the story of the shooting.

"It's like somebody twists that knife that's been inside my heart for 18 years," she said. "I'm going to work with the senate and the legislature to do whatever we can to change this law."

David Ruth, who was the lead investigator on the case, said there was an apparent communications foul-up. Tammy Gatlin's relatives received a letter from the state parole board Friday saying David Gatlin was not going to be paroled and would next be considered in October 2012. They received a call the next day saying he was being pardoned, Ruth told CNN affiliate WLBT.

Meanwhile, the family of Ricky Montgomery told CNN affiliate WAPT they received a call from the department on Saturday reporting Joseph Ozment's pardon. Montgomery, 33, was a store clerk who was slain on the job. Ozment was convicted of his murder.

"Of course it's devastating," said Mark McAbee, Montgomery's nephew. "You know, we go through this and it's reliving it over and over again, when I don't think the general public has any idea of the things these convicts are doing."

McAbee said his mother was incredulous two years ago to learn Ozment had been assigned to work at the governor's mansion. She wrote the Department of Corrections, he said, which told her that he met the requirements and underwent a screening process.

"We have people out on the streets that are sex offenders that have to register," McAbbe said. "This is a man (who) killed somebody. This man took somebody's life, and it's not going to indicate that on any paperwork."

Phil Bryant, Barbour's successor, was inaugurated Tuesday.

CNN's Rich Phillips, Rick Martin and Dana Ford contributed to this report.

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