- Associated Press - Thursday, March 8, 2012

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the pardons issued by former Gov. Haley Barbour during his final days in office, including those of four convicted killers and a robber who had worked at the Governor’s Mansion.

Mr. Barbour, a Republican who once considered running for president, pardoned 198 people before finishing his second term Jan. 10. Most of the people pardoned had served their sentences years ago, but crime victims were outraged and created a furor that lasted for weeks.

Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood challenged the pardons based on the argument that many of them didn’t follow a requirement in the state Constitution to publish notices in newspapers for 30 days.

In a 6-3 opinion, the Mississippi Supreme Court wrote “we are compelled to hold that - in each of the cases before us -it fell to the governor alone to decide whether the Constitution’s publication requirement was met.”

The court also said it couldn’t overturn the pardons because of the Constitution’s separation of powers of the different branches of government.

“In this decision, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed more than a century of settled law in our state. But this was not only about the power of the pardon or even the power of the office, but about the ability of a governor to grant mercy,” Mr. Barbour said in a statement.

The Supreme Court’s ruling hit crime victims hard.

“I hope Haley Barbour and the Supreme Court justices can sleep at night,” said Joann Martin, a probation officer from Fort Worth, Texas, whose sister had been killed by one of the pardoned trusties.

She thanked Mr. Hood for trying to send the killer back to jail.

“God has the final say and that’s all I have to say about it,” she said.

Mr. Hood said that he will pursue an initiative to amend the Constitution “to make it very clear that the judicial branch is responsible for enforcing the 30-day notification period in the future” and called on victims groups, law enforcement and other volunteers to help obtain signatures to put a measure on the ballot.

Mr. Barbour’s statement said he understands “the natural feelings of victims and their families” and recognizes that pardons are generally unpopular.

“Nevertheless, these were decisions based on repentance, rehabilitation, and redemption, leading to forgiveness and the right defined and given by the state constitution to the governor to offer such people a second chance,” he said.

Of those pardoned, 10 were incarcerated at the time. Others just wanted to clear their names or have their rights restored.

The five former Governor’s Mansion trusties had already been released on their pardons by the time Mr. Hood persuaded a lower court judge to issue a restraining order. The order kept five other inmates in prison and required the trusties to check in every 24 hours and show up for court hearings.

One of the trusties, however, Joseph Ozment moved to Laramie, Wyo., and refused to come back. Attorney Robert Moxley said Thursday his client felt like “he wasn’t really free until today.”

Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Booth said the inmates who had been held on the temporary restraining order will be released 48 hours after law enforcement and prosecutors are notified in the county where they were convicted.

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