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Lawyer: Pardoned murderer 'not going' back to Mississippi for hearing

By Rich Phillips, CNN
updated 5:21 AM EST, Tue February 7, 2012
Joseph Ozment was one of some 200 Mississippi inmates pardoned by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour.
Joseph Ozment was one of some 200 Mississippi inmates pardoned by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joseph Ozment was one of some 200 Mississippi inmates pardoned
  • The pardons were issued last month by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour
  • The state attorney general is challenging the pardons
  • Ozment, now in Wyoming, will not attend a hearing in Mississippi, his lawyer says

(CNN) -- A Wyoming attorney representing a convicted murderer recently pardoned by Mississippi's outgoing governor says his client will not attend a Mississippi Supreme Court hearing this week on the constitutionality of his and some 200 other pardons.

"He's not going to go," Cheyenne, Wyoming, attorney Robert Moxley said of his client, Joseph Ozment.

"He's not a fugitive and there's no valid order that says he needs to appear," Moxley told CNN.

On Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court will hear arguments brought by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood challenging the legality of scores of pardons issued by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour.

Ozment was one of four men convicted of murder who were pardoned by Barbour in January and released from state custody. The four had been working as "trusties" at the governor's mansion.

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The releases were quickly challenged by Hood, who contends that the pardons are unconstitutional because most of the inmates involved did not fulfill all of the requirements to get a pardon. Specifically, they did not file legal notices in newspapers local to where their crimes were committed for a 30-day period as required by law.

Ozment's whereabouts were unknown after his release until he was located last week in Laramie, Wyoming, and served with papers telling him to appear in court in Mississippi.

Hood's office said last week that if Ozment does not comply, a judge has the authority to hold him in contempt.

But CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin had a different opinion on the case as a civil -- not criminal -- matter at this point.

"He (Ozment) probably safely could ignore that piece of paper," Toobin said last week on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360."

But if the attorney general succeeds in having the pardons declared invalid, "his (Ozment's) pardon is no longer valid. Then, the attorney general can get an arrest warrant and -- if (the attorney general) can find him at that point -- bring him back."

Added Ozment's Wyoming attorney, "He hasn't even been required to file an answer in the civil case. There's no use in him being a spectator. It's just legal arguments."

"The question is if there is any jurisdiction for a court to review a pardon in the first place," Moxley told CNN.

A spokesman for the attorney general told CNN that Hood would not have any comment on the case until after the Thursday hearing.

Ozment was sentenced to life in prison in 1994 after he admitted he was part of a gang that robbed a convenience store in DeSoto County, Mississippi. The store clerk was killed in the robbery.

Ozment entered a plea to avoid the death penalty, admitting that he entered the convenience store and after one of his accomplices shot the clerk, Ricky Montgomery, three times, Ozment walked up to Montgomery, who was crawling from behind the store counter, and shot him twice in the head.

Ozment said that he did that so that the clerk could not later identify him.

The Mississippi Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on whether the pardons can even be challenged. If the court rules against the pardoned criminals, a lower court would be asked to hold hearings on each individual case.

"If the thing goes back to the trial court and resumes again, we're going to litigate these issues on whether there is extradition -- if it comes to that -- but it's a long way away," said Moxley.

Last week, at a news conference, Attorney General Hood said that if the court finds in his favor, he will have Ozment arrested "as soon as we can lay hands on him."

But Hood said he hopes Ozment will turn himself in.

"We'll see what kind of man he is," Hood said.

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