By Rob Moritz
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK - Former Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted the sentence of a man suspected in the slayings of four police officers in Washington state after a Pulaski County circuit judge recommended leniency, according to documents released Monday.
Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey in 1999 urged the Arkansas Parole Board to reduce the 108-year sentence given to Maurice Clemmons, who had been convicted of multiple felonies, including armed robbery.
“I favor a time cut for Maurice Clemmons,” Humphrey wrote to the parole board on July 9, 1999. “Mr. Clemmons was 16 years of age when his cases began in this court. I do not know why the previous judge ran his sentences consecutively, but concurrent sentences would have been sufficient.”
On March 30, 2000, then-Gov. Huckabee issued a notice of intent to grant Clemmons' clemency request. Huckabee issued a clemency proclamation the following May 2, making Clemmons immediately eligible for parole. Melody Piazza, a deputy prosecutor with the Pulaski County Prosecutor's Office, signed a form objecting to parole.
“If I could've known nine years ago, looked into the future, would I have acted favorably upon the parole board's recommendation? Of course not,” Huckabee said Monday in an interview with FOX News Radio. “One of the things that is horrible and just, again, one of the realities you have confront is, the criminal justice system is far from perfect and in this case it failed miserably on all sides.”
Humphrey said Monday his letter on Clemmons' behalf was based on his reading of pleadings filed with the inmate's petition for post-conviction relief.
The judge said he believed Clemmons at the time was trying to turn his life around. In fact, Humphrey performed a courthouse wedding ceremony for Clemmons and Nicole Cheryleen Smith, who were married June 2, 2004.
Humphrey said Monday he feels for the families of the officers killed in Washington state and “for the governor (Huckabee), having even recommended something to him that he considered and then he has to face this.”
“It's a tragedy for all ... and difficult, because one hates to use his judgment to give someone an opportunity and then that judgment not upheld on their end,” he said.
Warrants for first-degree murder have been issued against the 37-year-old Clemmons, accused of shooting four officers from the Tacoma, Wash., suburb of Lakewood on Sunday morning as they sat in a coffee shop.
A reward for information leading to an arrest in the killings has risen to $125,000.
After Clemmons had his Arkansas prison sentence commuted, he was arrested again in Ouachita County on an aggravated robbery charge. He was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
He was paroled March 18, 2004, under an agreement that his parole be transferred to Washington state, Arkansas Parole Board spokeswoman Rhonda Sharp said. The Pulaski County prosecutor's office again objected to the parole.
Following his release on parole, Clemmons was served with an old warrant from 2000 charging him with two counts of aggravated robbery in Pulaski County. Prosecutor Larry Jegley said Monday his office decided not to pursue the case.
“The warrant was stale ... and there were some speedy trial problems,” Jegley said.
Since his move to Washington, Clemmons also has been in trouble with the law.
He was recently charged in Washington state with assaulting a police officer and with second-degree rape of a child. A judge set his bond at $150,000, which he later posted, and he was released from jail last week.
Jegley was among the most vocal critics of Huckabee's clemency record as governor, which included leniency for a number of convicted felons, including rapist Wayne DuMond, on whose behalf Huckabee appeared before the state Parole Board.
Huckabee did not grant DuMond's clemency request. The board later granted DuMond parole. Following his release from prison, DuMond moved to Missouri where he was later charged in two murders. He was convicted of killing a woman near Kansas City and died in prison while awaiting trial in the other slaying.
Jegley said Monday the Washington case confirmed his worse fears about Clemmons.
“He should still be in the Arkansas Department of Correction ... he should have been there until 2021 by my calculation of his parole eligibility prior to his sentence being commuted,” Jegley said. “It's just a tragedy. We had all those clemencies back then and I've lived in fear of exactly what I heard (Sunday) and I hope to God I never hear it again, but that doesn't make the fear go away because there are some scary people out there.”
Huckabee, who was criticized during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 for his clemency record as Arkansas governor, said in a statement Sunday that he approved clemency for Clemmons in 1999 because of the inmate's youth at the time of his original conviction.
“Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington state,” Huckabee said.
Clemmons, Huckabee said, “was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990, making him parole eligible and was paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time. He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him.”
“It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state,” the former governor said. “This is a horrible and tragic event and if found and convicted the offender should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Our thoughts and prayers are and should be with the families of those honorable, brave and heroic police officers.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.