Mississippi's attorney general slams outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour
Joseph Ozment pleaded guilty to the 1992 murder of Rick Montgomery
He was released from prison after a pardon from Barbour
The pardons have stirred outrage from victim's families and law enforcement
Getting the convicted murderers pardoned by outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour back in prison is like “being on a manhunt with one arm tied behind my back,” the state’s attorney general said.
Highlighting the difficulty is the case of Joseph Ozment, whom authorities finally located Monday in Wyoming, said Jim Hood, the attorney general.
“We can’t treat him as an escapee. He has a document that says he’s a free man as of now,” said Hood. “All we have is a civil document we served him with. That is the most we can do. If he doesn’t show up in court, we will move to hold him in contempt. That’s the difficult part of this process.”
Ozment’s whereabouts had been unknown since his mother picked him up on January 8 after his release.
Ozment is one of four convicted murderers Barbour pardoned this month. The others are: David Gatlin, Charles Hooker and Anthony McCray.
Ozment did not appear at a court hearing in a case challenging the pardons.
This week, a Jackson, Mississippi, judge is expected to hear the case again. If Ozment does not appear, the judge can hold him in contempt, Hood said.
As he closed out his second term as governor, Barbour granted “full pardons” – meaning the convict’s record is effectively wiped clean – to more than 200 people found guilty of a variety of crimes. All four of the convicted murderers he pardoned were serving life sentences and worked as trusties at the governor’s mansion.
The move stirred outrage among relatives of the pardoned murderers’ victims.
“It’s just an every minute, constant, in the back of your mind, where is he? What is he doing?” said Mary McAbee, sister of Rick Montgomery, a store clerk shot to death by Ozment in 1992. Ozment pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“I’m fearful. He’s a cold-blooded murderer to do what he’s done, and if he thinks that he may go back to prison. What’s he got to lose?” she said.
Also concerned is Tiffany Ellis Brewer, whose sister was shot and killed by David Gatlin.
Gatlin walked into a trailer in 1993 where his estranged wife, Tammy Gatlin, lived and shot her in the head as she held their 6-week-old baby in her arms.
Brewer said she wants her sister’s killer back in prison.
“He got life plus 30 years, you know? And he served 18 of them. My sister lived 20 years. It’s ridiculous,” she said.
Late Monday, Hood spoke to CNN’s “AC360,” slamming Barbour and questioning the motives behind his pardons.
“He ran the office of the governor as if it was Mississippi in the 1950s,” said Hood. He said many of the inmates Barbour pardoned came from influential families or had connections to the Republican party.
The attorney general, a Democrat, said many of the inmates Barbour, a Republican, pardoned came from influential families or had connections to the Republican party.
“There’s not any logical explanation other than it was just a whim, and by doing it on a whim at the last moment that’s how he violated our Constitution,” Hood said.
Barbour has defended his pardons. On Friday, he appeared on CNN’s “John King USA,” saying Ozment and the others have been rehabilitated.
On Friday, he appeared on CNN’s “John King USA,” saying Ozment and the others have been rehabilitated.
“He has no obligation to do anything. He’s been pardoned. He’s a free man,” Barbour said.
Authorities found Ozment at a hotel in Laramie, Wyoming, on Monday. He had been staying under another name.
CNN’s Rich Phillips contributed to this report.