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Mississippi judge blocks release of pardoned prisoners

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:35 PM EST, Wed January 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Attorney general likens Barbour to "Boss Hogg"
  • State Attorney General Jim Hood wins temporary injunction
  • Some misunderstand clemency process, Haley Barbour says
  • Attorney general calls pardons "a slap in the face ... to law enforcement"

(CNN) -- A Mississippi judge Wednesday evening issued a temporary injunction forbidding the release of any more prisoners pardoned or given clemency by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour, whose actions created an uproar.

The pardons include four convicted murderers and a convicted armed robber who were released Sunday. The five now must contact prison officials on a daily basis as their fate is adjudicated.

The pardons are "a slap in the face to everyone in law enforcement and Gov. Barbour should be ashamed," said state Attorney General Jim Hood.

The process of releasing 21 other inmates has been halted, said Hood, who sought the court order.

A court hearing on the matter will be held January 23.

Hood said Barbour violated Mississippi's Constitution because the pardon requests for many inmates were not published 30 days before they were granted, as required.

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"He's tried to rule the state like Boss Hogg and he didn't think the law applied to him," Hood told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night, referring to a character in the 1980s TV series "The Dukes of Hazzard."

"These families are afraid out here," Hood said of relatives of crime victims.

Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green issued the injunction, saying it appeared some pardons, including those for the four murderers, did not meet the 30-day requirement. Any inmates released in the future must meet the standard, Green ruled.

On his way out the door, the Republican governor approved full pardons for nearly 200 people, including 14 convicted murderers, according to documents the Mississippi secretary of state's office released Tuesday.

The four murderers who received full pardons last week -- David Gatlin, Joseph Ozment, Charles Hooker and Anthony McCray -- were cited in Green's order.

They were all serving life sentences and worked as inmate trusties at the governor's mansion, said Suzanne Singletary, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Trusties are inmates who can receive additional rights through good behavior.

Hood told "AC360" it's possible that those who didn't meet the 30-days requirement may have to return to prison and complete their sentences.

Barbour said Wednesday that some people misunderstand the clemency process and believe that most of the individuals were still jailed.

"Approximately 90 percent of these individuals were no longer in custody, and a majority of them had been out for years," he said in a statement.

"The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote. My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 percent of the cases," Barbour wrote. "The 26 people released from custody due to clemency is just slightly more than one-tenth of 1 percent of those incarcerated."

Half of the people who were released were placed on indefinite suspension "due to (chronic) medical reasons because their health care expenses were costing the state so much money," Barbour said.

Hood said he is questioning the release of many of the 175 individuals who received full pardons.

Barbour's full pardon of Gatlin has intensified fears that the man will try "to finish what he started," one of his surviving victims said.

"I feel like my safety is in jeopardy," Randy Walker, who was shot and wounded by Gatlin, said Wednesday. "I wonder if he's going to finish what he's started."

Gatlin walked into a trailer in 1993 where his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis, lived and shot her in the head as she held her 6-week-old baby in her arms. Walker, the woman's friend, survived a gunshot wound to the head. Gatlin was convicted of murder, aggravated assault and burglary of a residence.

Speaking in an interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien, Walker and Tiffany Ellis Brewer, Tammy's sister, expressed concerns about the release and fears that Gatlin may intend to target them.

"I'm married and have a family again," Walker said. "I feel the safety for them is an issue. Anybody that might be with me at the time that he decides to do something would be in jeopardy."

Gatlin's pardon also raised concerns from John Kitchens, the prosecutor who saw him sent to prison.

"Haley Barbour is insane for granting a pardon to this criminal," said Kitchens, who is now in private practice.

Brewer said Barbour -- who left office this week -- hasn't responded to questions about the pardon.

"He will not comment on anything. We have no answers as to why he has done this. I would like to think he did not have all of the facts of the case, if he did have all the facts," she said.

"Apparently, we haven't had a really good man for our governor."

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

Brewer shared the fears of those families watching convicted killers of their loved ones get blanket pardons and go free.

"I'm sure that they feel basically the same way as Randy and I do. We're both fearful for our lives, our families' lives, and we will live with this for the rest of our lives," she said.

Gatlin's whereabouts were unknown late Wednesday.

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 the governor, in total, granted reprieves to 20 convicted murderers, the documents showed.

Since the conservative governor took office in 2004, 222 people were granted clemency for a wide variety of crimes. 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.

CNN's Ed Lavandera, Rich Phillips, Vivian Kuo and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

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