Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is facing backlash for controversial pardons, but criminal justice reform advocates say the anger is misplaced

Matt Bevin

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Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin speaks at the unveiling of a new $80 million Toyota engineering headquarters October 30, 2017 in Georgetown, Kentucky.

  • Former Kentucky governor Matt Bevin faced backlash after pardoning more than 600 convicted individuals prior to his departure from office.
  • His pardoning decision drew ire from the victims' families and prosecutors who worked the cases.
  • Among the slew of convicted criminals he has pardoned before his departure from office, people have been quick to scrutinize a few individuals that the governor has granted leniency.
  • While Bevin has drew criticism from some, criminal justice reform advocates believe the anger against him is misguided.
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Former Kentucky governor Matt Bevin faced backlash after pardoning hundreds of convicted individuals prior to his departure from office, The New York Times reported.

The outgoing governor cited his decision to grant leniency to over 600 people on his belief in "second chances," according to an interview he gave to The Washington Post.

"I'm a big believer in second chances," Bevin told The Post earlier this month. "I think this is a nation that was founded on the concept of redemption and second chances and new pages in life."

State law in Kentucky permits individuals to apply for clemency directly to the governor's office, and unlike most states, it doesn't require board review to decide who gets their sentences reduced or pardoned. Moreover, the governor reserves the power to pardon with "an unusually large degree of unchecked autonomy," according to The Post report.

Among the slew of convicted criminals he pardoned before his departure from office, people have been quick to scrutinize a few individuals that the governor has granted leniency. His pardoning decision drew ire from the victims' families and prosecutors who worked the cases alike.

"You have police, F.B.I., judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, hours and hours of work undone on the whim of one person," Leland Hulbert, who prosecuted a case for an individual pardoned by the governor, told The Times. "It's almost like a godlike power."

Bevin pardoned a man who was convicted of raping a 9-year-old girl

Micah Schoettle, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexually abusing a minor, walked out of prison at the hand of Bevin, who gave him an unconditional pardon after Schoettle was convicted on a "sloppy" investigation and insufficient physical evidence, The Post reported. Specifically, he justified the pardon by saying that the girl's hymen was still intact.

"This is perhaps more specific than people would want," Bevin said on the radio-station WHAS. "But trust me. If you have been repeatedly sexually violated as a small child by an adult, there are going to be repercussions of that physically and medically."

Scientists have refuted the theory that a broken hymen alone denotes sexual activity, according to The Post.

"I just kept saying, 'How? How? How?'" the mother of the girl recalled of the moment she found out about Schoettle's release to The Times. "He spent less time in prison than he did molesting my child."

"We just got to the point where we felt safe even in the house," she told local news station WCPO-TV. "Not having to look over our shoulders. Shame on him. Shame on him."

The former governor also pardoned a man who confessed to a triple murder in 1983

Bevin also took a man who confessed to a triple murder in 1983, Leif Halvorsen, off of death row and commuted his sentence to life in prison.

Halvorsen's attorney and public defender David Barron told The Post that the former governor believed Halvorsen "saved people's lives and will continue to save lives" because he had raised money and helped impoverished children and troubled youth, The Post reported.

"I know Bevin has the power to pardon and commute, but something like this? No," Barbara Barber, a relative of one of Halvor­sen's victims, Joey Durrum, told The Post. "My other nieces and nephews are living the murder all over again."

One man who was serving a 15-year sentence for sodomizing a teenage boy in 2014 was pardoned and released. But the other three accomplices remain in prison.

Dayton Jones and three men had pleaded guilty to assaulting an unconscious teenage boy at a party and videotaping the incident, later sharing video on social media. Prosecutors said the boy had to be taken to the hospital for a lifesaving surgery.

Bevin said there was "no evidence" showing that Jones was present at the assault because he did not appear in the video, The Times reported.

While Jones did not appear in the video of the assault, there was a slew of evidence showing otherwise: independent witnesses testifying that Jones was present and text messages that he sent that implied guilt, according to The Times report.

However, Jon Heck, a special prosecutor in the case, said the governor's office did not attempt to contact him prior to the pardon being made.

"There was no question he was guilty," Heck told The Times.

A man who was convicted of killing his former lover and stuffing her body in a barrel was granted clemency

Delmar Partin was convicted of the murder Betty Carnes by decapitating her and stuffing her body in a barrel after prosecutors said she broke off an affair with Partin, The Post reported.

While prosecutors have called the pardon a "travesty of justice," Melanie Foote, an attorney for the Kentucky Innocence Project, told The Post that experts still question if Partin was able to commit such a heinous crime in the approximately 15 to 20 minutes that witnesses said they saw him.

The Department of Public Advocacy wrote to the governor's office in November, saying Partin "could not have murdered, decapitated and concealed the victim's body and then walked past several people mere minutes later, with no signs of struggle, blood or injury on his person or clothing."

Despite the rising controversy for Bevin's political authority, not all of his pardons drew scrutiny and criticism

"More than half of those that he granted clemency were low-level offenders released from overcrowded jails and prisons as part of a planned mass commutation," The Times reported.

Bevin also claimed in a tweet that a "majority" people who were pardoned received clemency years after they were released from prison.

While Bevin has drew criticism from victims' families and prosecutors, criminal justice reform advocates believe the anger against him is misplaced. Overcrowded jails are a result of a higher incarceration rate, at 869 people per 100,000, in the state of Kentucky, about 24 percent greater than the average in the US, The Appeal's Adam Johnson writes.

"While Bevin's motivation remains unclear, the idea that the great moral tragedy of our time is that not enough people are in Kentucky prisons runs counter to everything we know about incarceration," Johnson wrote.

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