Clemmons was the Jesus-loving lunatic who murdered four police officers in Tacoma, and was shot and killed by the police. He was also the recipient of a pardon from Mike Huckabee, governor of Arkansas, egotistical god-walloping incompetent.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for mercy, I reject the abuse of our penal system as a vehicle for vengeance, and I oppose the death penalty without reservation. A governor’s clemency can be a good thing, as when it should be used to correct miscarriages of justice (isn’t it odd, though, how the most Christian of governors avoid using it for that purpose?). But there are also cases where justice and mercy are best served by incarceration or mental care, not by turning killers and dangerous psychos loose on the streets.
Clemmons was a monster. He murdered people and he raped children. He was insane. He believed he was Jesus Christ. Yet Mike Huckabee pardoned him. Why? Because Huckabee did not care about the evidence. What he thought was sufficient was a profession of piety and the testimonials of religious men. Clemmons played him.
No doubt word spread among the prison population that the affable governor was vulnerable to appeals from convicts who claimed to be born again. Clemmons too was among those who benefited from Huckabee’s tendency to believe such pious testimonials. “I come from a very good Christian family and I was raised much better than my actions speak,” he explained in his clemency application in 2000. “I’m still ashamed to this day for the shame my stupid involvement in these crimes brought upon my family’s name … I have never done anything good for God, but I’ve prayed for him to grant me in his compassion the grace to make a start. Now, I’m humbly appealing to you for a brand new start.”
Mercy is not a wicked thing, and there are good people in prison who could turn their lives around if given an opportunity. There are also evil, damaged people in prison who would use freedom as an opportunity to do harm. What is necessary is the rational analysis of evidence to determine who deserves freedom in those cases, and Huckabee does not and cannot do that; his religiosity short-circuits his capacity for critical evaluation, and his ego makes the pardon a tool for feeding his own delusions of christ-hood. Tristero has an excellent summary.
First of all, it is Huckabee’s delusion that he is Jesus Christ, not genuine compassion, that spins the Clemmons case as a miscarriage of justice against a hapless juvenile. It is clear from the record that Clemmons was then, and continued to be, an extremely troubled person with a propensity for extreme violence. Huckabee ignored this, focusing – Christ-like – on an opportunity to show mercy towards a young sinner who showed what Huckabee misapprehended as signs of redemption. The issue is Huckabee’s lack of judgment.
If you argue that it is unfair to sentence a juvenile to life in prison for an armed robbery committed when he was 16, I won’t disagree with you. But that is not the issue here. The issue is Huckabee’s spectacularly bad judgment and his failure to take responsibilty for his behavior. The justice system, for all its incredible faults, has numerous mechanisms, including but not limited to commuting a sentence, for dealing with mitigating circumstances, like the age of an offender, signs of redemption, and an unfairly long sentence. Flawed they surely are, imperfect and inadequate no doubt, but they exist. Huckabee, imitating Christ, chose to deal with the Clemmons case in a very particular way, showing not mercy, but simply awful judgment that set into motion further tragedy.
The incredibly cruel, incredibly unjust way that juvenile offenders are treated in the United States has nothing to do with the fact that Huckabee behaved the way he did. It simply gave him an excuse to exercise his egomania, his delusions of grandeur, and his incompetence. As a result, innocent people died.
Huckabee wants to be our president. I wouldn’t trust him to be my dishwasher.