- The Washington Times - Monday, November 30, 2009

UPDATED:

The suspect in the weekend slaying of four police officers in Washington state has a long criminal record and had a lengthy prison sentence commuted by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee nearly a decade ago.

Police had thought since Sunday night that suspect Maurice Clemmons, 37, was hiding inside a Seattle house, wounded and possibly dead. But on Monday morning a SWAT team stormed the house and found it empty.

In 1989, Mr. Clemmons, then 17, was convicted in Little Rock, Ark., for aggravated robbery. He was paroled in 2000 after Mr. Huckabee commuted a 95-year prison sentence.

Mr. Huckabee, who was criticized during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 for granting many clemencies and commutations, cited Mr. Clemmons’ youth. Mr. Clemmons later violated his parole, was returned to prison and was released in 2004.

On Sunday, Mr. Huckabee issued a statement on his Web site.

“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,” he wrote.

Mr. Huckabee said that, after Mr. Clemmons’ sentence was commuted, he was arrested for a parole violation and returned to prison to serve his full term. “But prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him,” he said.

The discovery that Mr. Clemmons was not inside the Seattle house added new urgency to the manhunt. Police canvassed the neighborhood with search dogs, and hundreds of officers were deployed around Seattle for any sign of the suspect. Authorities put up a $125,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Police were positioned overnight at the house and spent hours trying to communicate with Mr. Clemmons using loudspeakers, explosions and even a robot.

At one point this morning, gunshots rang through the neighborhood, about 30 miles from the coffee shop in Parkland, Wash., in which the shootings occurred Sunday morning.

Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County sheriff, said authorities have determined Mr. Clemmons was shot by one of the victims and perhaps died from the wound.

He said people who know Mr. Clemmons told investigators he had been shot in the torso.

“If he didn’t get a ride out of there, he could still be in the area,” Mr. Troyer said.

Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel said there was evidence Mr. Clemmons at one point was on the property. He would not describe what the evidence was but said it was a “good tip” that led them to the home.

Mr. Clemmons became the prime target Sunday in the search for the killer of Lakewood Police Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, and Officers Ronald Owens, 37, Tina Griswold, 40, and Greg Richards 42. Police Chief Bret Farrar said the department was formed just five years ago and the four officers were original members.

“They were good people and great officers,” he said at a Monday afternoon press conference. “We will miss them very much… . We’re here to continue on. This is what we do.”

Mr. Clemmons is believed to have been in the area around the time of the shooting, but Mr. Troyer declined to say what evidence might link him to the shooting.

Investigators say they know of no reason four gunning down the officers as they sat working on their laptops, catching up on paperwork at the beginning of their shifts. But court documents indicate Mr. Clemmons is delusional and mentally unstable.

Mr. Troyer has sketched out a scene of controlled and deliberate carnage that spared the employees and other customers at the coffee shop in suburban Parkland, about 35 miles south of Seattle.

“He was very versed with the weapon,” he said. “This wasn’t something where the windows were shot up and there bullets sprayed around the place. The bullets hit their targets.”

Officer Richards’ sister-in-law, Melanie Burwell, called the shooting “senseless.”

“He didn’t have a mean bone in his body,” she said. “If there were more people in the world like Greg, things like this wouldn’t happen.”

Mr. Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history in Arkansas. He also recently was arrested and charged in Washington state for assaulting a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child. Using a bail bondsman, he posted $150,000 — only $15,000 of his own money — and was released from jail last week.

Documents related to the pending charges in Washington state indicate an unstable and volatile personality. In one instance, he is accused of punching a sheriff’s deputy in the face, the Seattle Times reported. In another, he is accused of gathering his wife and young relatives and forcing them to undress, according to a Pierce County sheriff’s report.

“The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus,” the report stated.

Mr. Troyer said investigators think two of the officers were killed while sitting in the shop and a third was shot dead after standing up. The fourth apparently “gave up a good fight.”

“We believe there was a struggle, a commotion, a fight … that he fought the guy all the way out the door,” Mr. Troyer said.

There was no indication of any connection between Sunday’s killings and the Halloween-night shooting of a Seattle police officer.

Authorities say the man charged with that shooting also firebombed four police vehicles in October as part of a “one-man war” against law enforcement. Christopher Monfort, 41, was arrested after being wounded in a firefight with police days after the Seattle shooting.

The officers killed Sunday had received no threats, sheriff’s officials said.

“We won’t know if it’s a copycat effect or what it was until we get the case solved,” Mr. Troyer said.

Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Parkland, Wash.; Rachel La Corte in Tacoma, Wash.; George Tibbits in Seattle; and Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Ark.; and photographers Elaine Thompson in Seattle and Ted S. Warren in Parkland contributed to this report.

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