Image: Haley Barbour
Rogelio V. Solis  /  AP file
In the executive orders signed by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, he wrote that the pardoned killers each "proved to be a diligent and dedicated workman." staff and news service reports
updated 1/10/2012 4:24:46 AM ET 2012-01-10T09:24:46

Outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has pardoned at least four convicted killers who worked at the Governor's Mansion, including a man who was denied parole less than two weeks ago.

Relatives of three victims told The Associated Press on Monday that state corrections officials notified them over the weekend that the convicts were to be released this past Sunday. Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who weighed a presidential run last year before deciding against it, leaves office on Tuesday.

Video: Barbour’s refusal to run shocks supporters (on this page)

In the executive orders Barbour signed, he wrote each "proved to be a diligent and dedicated workman."

The pardons outraged victims' relatives. Democratic lawmakers called for an end to the custom of governors' issuing such end-of-tenure pardons.

While Barbour's office hasn't responded to messages about the pardons, he told the AP in 2008 that releasing the trusties who live and work at the mansion is a tradition in Mississippi that goes back decades. Work by trusties would typically include kitchen duty, waiting tables, cleaning and washing vehicles, officials said.

The Barbour administration did not publicize the pardons, which became public when family members notified the media. The Mississippi Secretary of State's office released copies of the pardons Monday afternoon. They show Barbour has pardoned at least five men.

The former inmates are David Gatlin, convicted of killing his estranged wife in 1993; Joseph Ozment, convicted in 1994 of killing a man during a robbery; Anthony McCray, convicted in 2001 of killing his wife; Charles Hooker, sentenced to life in 1992 for murder; and Nathan Kern, sentenced to life in 1982 for burglary after at least two prior convictions.

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said Monday afternoon that the inmates were released Sunday.

'Horrendous murder'
The 40-year-old Gatlin was sentenced to life in prison in the 1993 slaying of Tammy Ellis Gatlin and the shooting of Randy Walker, her long-time friend. Walker survived.

Walker's mother, Glenda Walker, said Monday that Gatlin shot his estranged wife while she was holding their young baby, then shot her son in the head.

"He left that little baby on his dead mother's body," Glenda Walker said. "It was a horrendous murder."

Crystal Walker, Randy Walker's wife, told the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., that her family was now living in fear.

"On parole he'd at least have to check in and have some supervision," the newspaper quoted her as saying. "Now he could live beside us, or we could run into him at Wal-Mart. You're always looking over your shoulder."

Tiffany Ellis Brewer of Pearl, sister of Tammy Ellis Gatlin, said David Gatlin's release revived the grief for her family.

"He shot her in the head while she was holding a baby," she said. "He's a cold-blooded murderer.

The Mississippi Parole Board turned down Gatlin on Dec. 27, according to a letter dated Jan. 4 and obtained by AP. The letter did not explain why the Parole Board rejected Gatlin's parole request. It said he was due for another parole hearing in October.

Gatlin had worked at the mansion since November 2009, Mississippi Department of Corrections records show.

"It's liked it's happened all over again to us," Brewer added. "We can't do anything about our situation now because he's out, he's gone. But I don't want anyone in this world to feel the fear, the pain and the hurt that our families are feeling right now. Something needs to be done."

Shannon Warnock, chair of the parole board, didn't immediately respond to a message Monday.

Cafe shooting
Other victims' relatives said they were also shocked by Barbour's pardons.

Joann Martin, a probation officer from Fort Worth, Texas, said Anthony McCray killed her sister.

McCray pleaded guilty in 2001 to killing Jennifer Bonds McCray, 38, at Ramsey's Cafe in McComb. The couple apparently had been arguing before the shooting. He left the cafe and returned with a gun. Jennifer McCray was shot once in the back.

"It's very painful for my family that he was released. When he killed her, she had a 3-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son, who have been raised by my other sister," Martin said. "It's a shame before God. It's almost like you kill somebody and nobody cares."

Democrats were quick to condemn the pardons, though past governors from both parties have granted some sort of early release to the inmates who lived and worked at the Governor's Mansion.

"Serving your sentence at the Governor's Mansion where you pour liquor, cook and clean should not earn a pardon for murder," Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat, posted Monday on his Facebook page.

Members of the Mississippi House Democratic Caucus held a press conference at the Mississippi Capitol Rotunda and called for limits on governors' ability to pardon inmates. They said they would introduce legislation this year.

'A slap in the face'
Mark McAbee said Barbour pardoned the man who killed his uncle, Ricky Montgomery.

McAbee said Ozment was sentenced to life in 1994 for the slaying, which happened during a robbery with several other men.

"One of the other ones shot my uncle three times. He was crawling toward Joseph Ozment for help. He didn't know Joseph Ozment was involved. He was crawling to him for help. Joseph Ozment put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger twice," McAbee said.

He called the pardon "a slap in the face."

Barbour created a similar stir by releasing convicted killer Michael Graham in 2008. Barbour later defended "the custom" of governors reducing the sentences of the mansion's inmate workers if they behave.

Barbour's three predecessors, dating back to 1988, gave some type of early release or pardon to a total of 12 Governor's Mansion trusties. All but two of them had been convicted of murder. One was serving time for forgery and another for armed robbery and aggravated assault.

Epps, the corrections commissioner, told the AP in 2008 that the inmates who end up working at the Governor's Mansion are often convicted murderers because they are the ones who serve long enough sentences to build the trust needed for such a task.

Epps said Monday he wasn't taking a position on the practice of governors granting pardons, but pointed out that governors in Mississippi for decades have used their powers to let prisoners out early, including Governor's Mansion trusties convicted of serious crimes such as murder. He said he can't remember a case in which one of them committed another serious crime.

"I have sympathy and empathy for the victims," Epps said. "I've been a crime victim, but the point of the matter is this is just something that happens."

The Associated Press, Reuters and staff contributed to this report.

Video: Barbour: ‘I believe life begins at conception’

  1. Closed captioning of: Barbour: ‘I believe life begins at conception’

    >>> and the personhood amendment is only one of three mississippi ballot issues in the spotlight today. one would require residents to show a government-issued photo i.d. before being allowed to vote. another would put an end to the government's right to take private property by eminent domain and transfer it to others. and, of course, that's on top of the governor's race pitting republican lieutenant governor phil brian against democrat johnny dupri. the election is to replace haley barbour who is term limited . governor barbour joins me now. you have a lot on the ballot in mississippi . it's really a key test vote today on a lot of issues. let's talk about personhood first. you expressed some discomfort. you talked about some kinds of pregnancies which could become a real problem here where surgeons would have to deal with it. what about the legal ramifications of this? and why are you supporting it?

    >> well, it does concern me. i think that it is unnecessarily ambiguous. it could have said life begins at conception, period. i don't understand why it has cloning in it. cloning is already illegal in mississippi . and then it mentions, or the equivalent thereof. does that mean in vitro infertilization? i was assured by physicians that there is no question that doctors would have the right to take -- to do an abortion if the life of the mother was at risk as with an ectopic pregnancy , where the, say, the fertilized egg implanted in the fallopian tube because you'd be talking about two lives then. frankly, i wish they had taken this up with the legislature. this is one of the most pro-life states in the country. there are many pro-life voters who are concerned about this. i ended up voting for it because i do believe life begins at conception. but i think there are a lot of other pro-life voters who won't. therefore, it's not going to be a very good test. and the people in colorado who wrote this and imported it into mississippi because we are such a pro-life state would have been better to try to get our legislature to pass it because i think they would have ironed out the wrinkles and then passed it overwhelmingly.

    >> now let me ask you more broadly about the republican race a year out. the nbc news/" wall street journal " poll has mitt romney at 28. newt gingrich coming up from behind at 13. and ron paul at 10. rick perry down at 10. first of all, rick perry . he's really collapsed in the polling. do you still see him as a viable candidate?

    >> i do. i think very mistaken to think that rick perry 's rocky start and he sort of stumbled out of the gates means that he doesn't have a chance to win the nomination. i think he does. governor of a very large state with an outstanding record. he's got to recover from his stumbles, but i think that's doable. what these allegations with herman cain , what the facts turn out to be, got to have more to do with herman cain 's viability than anything. and i noticed one of your people on tv, i think it was chris, said that this is a slowly developing race. and i think it is. the news media wants it to develop a heck of a lot faster than the republican voters do. a lot of candidates who had outstanding records in what they've done, but are not very well known, andrea. that the average republican voter knows little about at the start. so they are trying to learn about them. and i think that explains why you see these fights for people in the polls. mitt romney on the other hand, who is the best known, has kind of set where he is and, frankly, that people are trying the other brands first. they feel like, i already know something about romney. let me learn about these others.

    >> one of the brands, you mentioned herman cain . one of the things you said to national review online about the allegations is if there is any substance to the claims if the american people believe that somebody abused women, they are not going to elect him or her president. if this were taken as being true and people believe it's true, then i don't think that can be overcome. and you've advocated for him getting out the facts. he brushed back -- he's had several opportunities right away. go ahead, sir.

    >> the other thing, you did mention that i said is, we have no idea of what the truth of this is.

    >> right.

    >> you know, the question was, if it is true. okay. but we don't know that it's true. and there are millions and millions of voters who right now don't believe it's true.

    >> well, but the other thing that you said was that he should get the information out. he is having a press conference today. i don't know if he's following your advice. he could have gotten the information out 10, 11 days ago when he was first -- well, even before that, 20 days ago when he first heard about the politico and other reporters looking into it. but that said if he gets it all out this afternoon at his news conference at 5:00 eastern, and if people continue to believe him, is he a viable candidate?

    >> well, you just put a bunch of ifs in that question.

    >> sure.

    >> but if he gets all the cards on the table face up. and then if people are comfortable with him and that these allegations are either unfounded or they are based on conduct that is not abusive, but maybe was wrongly suggestive, but depending on what people believe the facts are, that will determine the viability. i think it is smart for him to do what he didn't do at the beginning, and that's get everything out. get all the facts in front of people. otherwise, he's got to have this continuing distraction. and barack obama has got to just be as happy as he can be that all the air time for the last week or so in american politics , none of it has been about jobs, the economy, obama 's policies, the record that he's made. because obama can't run on his record. but if all the press coverage is about herman cain did this, said that, then that's to obama 's benefit.

    >> and just circling back briefly to mitt romney , eric erickson wrote about romney. mitt romney is not the george w. bush of 2012 . he's the harriet miers of 2012 . only conservative because a few conservative grand pooh-bahs tell us he's conservative . his campaign will be a disaster for conservatives as he takes the gop down with him and burns up what it means to be a conservative in the process. do you agree or disagree?

    >> well, i agree that mitt romney is not as conserve of a as eric ericsson . but he's a lot more conservative than barack obama . and i think that if he is our nominee, conservatives will unite behind mitt romney basra back obbarack obama is the great uniter of lots of independents and moderates who think our country is going in the wrong direction at warp speed and they know we've got to change the direction of this country. even if it means electing a president who is not as conservative as i am or not as conservative as that voter may be.

    >> any regrets that you didn't get into this?

    >> not really. you know, i've lived my life, andrea. make a decision and don't look back.

    >> okay. and after this election that takes place because you're term limited . you could be re-elected for life in mississippi if you -- if there were some other law. what's next for haley barbour ?

    >> well, my wife thinks it would be interested if i go to work for money. the concept that we haven't undertaken in the last eight years. i asked marsha in 2002 when i was thinking about running for governor. i asked what do you think about a 90% pay cut? i am going to do everything i can to make sure we have a new republican president. and i'm not going to take any money for doing that. but i automatic the other part of my time i'll have to work for money.

    >> okay. well, he'll be out on the job market soon. thank you very much, governor. good to see you.


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