State authorities say they have been in touch with 3 of the 4 pardoned killers
The attorney general says he'll ask a judge to declare the pardons "null and void"
One of those pardoned, Anthony McCray, thanks governor for his decision
The outgoing governor last week pardoned him and dozens of others
One of four convicted murderers whose whereabouts had been unknown since they were controversially pardoned last week by Mississippi’s governor insisted Friday that he hasn’t been on the run, saying he is a changed man who deserved to be freed.
Anthony McCray, who was convicted in a 2001 murder, said he went straight from prison Sunday to the home of a relative in central Mississippi, where he has been since. He criticized the outrage over outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s decision to grant clemency to him, along with nearly 200 other convicted criminals, in a final act before leaving office.
“I didn’t do this. God did this,” McCray said from a covered porch. “God touched Haley Barbour’s heart.”
The office of Mississippi’s attorney general said late Friday afternoon that authorities have been in touch with three of the four convicted murderers – McCray, David Gatlin and Charles Hooker – who were pardoned and released Sunday. Nathan Kern, an armed robber who is also required to check in with authorities, also has been located.
But authorities are still looking for one convicted murderer, Joseph Ozment, the office said.
McCray said Friday that he did not know the whereabouts of any of the men, whom he described as “nice guys.”
He was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to the 2001 murder of his wife, Jennifer McCray. Even with the plea, McCray insisted Friday that her death was an accident and said the shot was fired inadvertently during “tussling” over a gun.
“I didn’t know she was shot,” he said of his initial reaction. “I said, ‘Somebody, call the police.’ (Later) I went and turned myself in. … This is somebody I loved and had children with.”
Judge Mike Smith, the former Pike County judge who presided over that case, said Friday that the woman’s killing was not accidental. He noted that there were many witnesses, as the woman was shot from behind in a public cafe.
And the victim’s younger brother, Ronald Bonds, said Barbour should be “ashamed of himself” for pardoning Anthony McCray.
“He did this for nothing,” Bonds said of his former brother-in-law. “He’s a coward. He shot her in the back.”
All four convicted murderers who were pardoned had been serving life sentences and worked as inmate trusties at the governor’s mansion, according to Suzanne Singletary, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Trusties are inmates who can receive additional rights through good behavior.
McCray said he had his own room at the mansion, spending three years there after serving in prison without any disciplinary problems. During his time in Jackson, he said, he did odd jobs like housekeeping, washing cars and cooking, and conversed regularly with Barbour.
He added that it was understood that trusties had a much higher chance of getting pardons than those in the general prison population, though he insisted that the two never talked about clemency.
“He treated us like we were his children,” McCray said.
Barbour defended the trusties program Friday, telling Fox News that most inmates who have worked at the mansion committed crimes of passion – including murder – and corrections experts say they are least likely to reoffend.
“I have no doubt in my mind that these men have repented, have been redeemed, have come back hardworking to prepare themselves to go out into the world,” the former governor said. “I trust them to be around my grandchildren. I think that makes a pretty plain statement.”
McCray said authorities contacted him at his relative’s house on Thursday night and served him a court order mandating that he appear in court January 23 and contact the attorney general’s office daily. He said Friday that he’ll comply.
“Everybody deserves a second chance in life,” McCray said, expressing thanks for being able to reunite with his son and daughter while acknowledging that there is a “great possibility” he might be ordered to return to prison.
Those orders are the result of a temporary injunction issued Wednesday by Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green, which among other measures forbid the release of any more prisoners.
With that ruling, the four convicted murderers and Kern, the armed robber, are required to contact prison officials daily while their fate is adjudicated.
Since Barbour took office in 2004, 222 people have been granted clemency for a wide variety of crimes. The attorney general’s office said 203 of those were “full pardons,” meaning the convict’s record is effectively wiped clean.
State Attorney General Jim Hood said Friday in a statement that “a large number of staff” is examining the pardons.
“Our preliminary investigation indicates that the majority of these purported pardons did not have sufficient publication and therefore we will introduce our evidence (in court on January 23) and ask the court to hold these purported pardons null and void,” the attorney general said.
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.
Barbour, a longtime lobbyist and GOP politician who chaired the Republican National Committee and was in the Reagan administration, said earlier this week that some people misunderstand the clemency process, noting that approximately 90 percent of the convicts on the latest list “were no longer in custody.”
And on Friday, Barbour said that efforts to restrict future Mississippi governors’ ability to offer pardons was short-sighted. He noted that it is part of the U.S. constitution and many others.
“We believe that people who ask for forgiveness for their sins, redeem themselves should get a second chance,” he said. “And 20 years in the penitentiary is time enough to come to grips with getting … redemption and forgiveness.”