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Remaining 5 inmates in Mississippi pardons controversy freed

From Rich Phillips, CNN
updated 7:00 AM EDT, Sun March 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Attorney General says no proper notice was posted in newspapers before pardons
  • Mississippi's Supreme Court upholds the controversial pardons
  • Governor says it was a difficult decision
  • He acknowledges his decision has been difficult for inmates' victims

(CNN) -- All five remaining inmates held in the Mississippi pardons controversy have now been released from prison.

Mississippi's Supreme Court last week upheld the controversial pardons of more than 200 convicts that former Gov. Haley Barbour granted on his way out of office, rejecting a challenge by the state's attorney general.

In a 77-page, 6-3 ruling Thursday afternoon, the court found the pardons "may not be set aside or voided by the judicial branch."

Attorney General Jim Hood argued that no proper notice had been posted in newspapers, but the court found the final decision rested "solely with the governor."

"We are mindful that the victims and their families are entitled to be interested in the subject matter of this case, and they are undoubtedly -- and understandably -- concerned with its outcome," Justice Jess Dickinson wrote for the majority.

But in the cases before them, it was up to the governor to " decide whether the Constitution's publication requirement was met."

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In a statement after the court ruling, Barbour said it "reaffirmed more than a century of settled law in our state," but acknowledged that his decision has been difficult for many of the inmates' victims.

But in a dissenting opinion, Justice Michael Randolph called the decision "a stunning victory for some lawless convicted felons, and an immeasurable loss for the law-abiding citizens of our state."

Hood argued that the state Constitution required that for a pardon to be valid, notices be filed, each day, for 30 days in newspapers where their crimes were committed.

But during a February Supreme Court hearing, Barbour's lawyers argued that previous state court rulings had found the 30-day notice rule was "an unconstitutional encroachment" on the governor's power.

Thursday's ruling is the final word on the case, but Hood said he would seek to get the notice requirement restored to the state charter.

"We do respect the decision of the Court, but feel deeply for how it must weigh on the victims and their families. It is these victims and family members who have lost today and the criminals who have won," he said in a statement, echoing Randolph's dissent.

Among the 214 inmates Barbour pardoned before he left office in January were four convicted murderers who had worked as "trusties" at the governor's mansion. Critics argued that the governor failed to consider the families of their victims before freeing them.

All four and an armed robber also pardoned by Barbour had remained free while the issue worked its way through the courts, and were freed under Thursday's decision. Five other inmates who had remained behind bars awaiting a ruling have been released.

Barbour has defended his pardons and said the former inmates had been rehabilitated.

CNN's Martin Savidge and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

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