Pardons Common For Mississippi Governors

By Jon Kalahar - email

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - Earlier this month, Governor Haley Barbour suspended the sentence of an inmate for the first time during his tenure as governor. His decision to release convicted murderer David Michael Graham sent shock waves across the state. But what the Governor did has been a common practice for many years in Mississippi.

For killing his ex-wife Adrienne Klasky 19 years ago, many believed Graham would never walk free again. Graham was sentenced to life in prison. But for the last four years, he's lived and worked at the Governor's Mansion. Now Graham is out on what amounts to early parole.

"It's long, long been the custom and tradition in the state of Mississippi for governors to either commute, or suspend, or in some cases even pardon those who had served as a trusty in the Governor's Mansion," said attorney Andy Taggart.

Taggart served as Governor Kirk Fordice's chief of staff and co-authored a book on the recent history of Mississippi politics. Taggart said while most governors want to show forgiveness and grace in clemency, he's said it's really a no win situation.

"That's why I think, as a society, we've very closely limited the exercise to the pardon or commutation authority to the single person we've elected as chief executive," said Taggart.

The last three governors have all used their executive authority to grant early release for several inmates.

In Fordice's second term, 12 of 32 total releases were pardoned. Under Governor Ronnie Musgrove, there was only one pardon among his 26 total releases.

Governor Barbour has pardoned four inmates. Two were already paroled by the state parole board, while two others had received suspended sentences from Governor Musgrove. But the Graham case marks the first use of clemency under Barbour.

"If anything, it's a reflection of the fact he's very prudent and careful, regardless of the fact folks might disagree with some specific decisions he's made," said Taggart.