Headless Body In Brainless Pardon
After narrowly losing his reelection bid to Democrat Andy Beshear, lameduck Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has gone on a pardoning spree, pardoning 428 prisoners between losing the election and Wednesday, his final day in office. It's not unusual for governors to issue pardons on their way out of office, but those pardons don't typically include quite so many prisoners convicted or homicide or sexual assault. And in at least one case, Bevin pardoned a dude whose family members were big-time Bevin donors, and who even hosted a fundraiser to retire Bevin's campaign debt.
Among those Bevin pardoned, as the Louisville Courier-Journal notes, were "one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner and a third who killed his parents." Also a couple of parents who, in separate cases, killed their babies.
You have to admit, it would have made a hell of a reelection slogan: "Four More Years -- Or I Let The Child Rapist Out."
One pardon went to Patrick Brian Baker. convicted of reckless homicide, robbery, impersonating a peace officer, and tampering with evidence after the 2014 killing of Donald Mills. Baker and four others were charged with a violent home invasion in which Baker and another man dressed as police officers and forced their way into Mills's home. The other three defendants were in a car outside. Baker shot and killed Mills after a fight, tied up Mills's wife, and robbed the house. Three children were in the house at the time.
Baker's family hosted a fundraiser for Bevin last year that brought in $21,500; Bevin was photographed attending the party. Baker's brother and sister-in-law donated another $4,000, too.
In his pardon statement, Bevin explained that Baker was just a poor soul who made mistakes, just like the people of Kentucky who elected Matt Bevin to a position of power.
Bevin said Baker had made "a series of unwise decisions in his adult life" and that his drug addiction "resulted in his association with people that in turn led to his arrest, prosecution and conviction for murder."
Bevin wrote that the evidence supporting Baker's conviction is "sketchy at best. I am not convinced that justice has been served on the death of Donald Mills, nor am I convinced that the evidence has proven the involvement of Patrick Baker as a murderer."
Jackie Steele, the commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted the case (and is also a Republican), wasn't all that happy about Bevin's act of kindness, which he said had come with no advance warning. He told the Courier-Journal it's an "understatement to say I am aggrieved" by the pardon, and pointed out that all of Baker's co-defendants remain in prison:
"What makes Mr. Baker any different than the other two?" he asked.
Answering that question, he said he believes Baker was pardoned while the others remain locked up because Baker's family has given generously to Bevin.
What sad times we live in, when a generous act of mercy is met by such cynicism.
Other violent crimers pardoned by Bevin included
Micah Schoettle, who was convicted last year of raping a 9-year-old child in Kenton County and sentenced last year to 23 years in prison.
Bevin wrote that Schoettle was convicted of a heinous crime "based only on testimony that was not supported by any physical evidence." He added that the case "was investigated and prosecuted in a manner that was sloppy at best. I do not believe that the charges against Mr. Schoettle are true."
The prosecutor in that case, Rob Sanders, was "infuriated" by the statement:
"I guess Matt Bevin thinks he's smarter than the 12 citizens that heard the actual evidence," Sanders said. "I've got news for him: Child molesting rarely happens in front of witnesses or leaves physical evidence. If we didn't pursue those cases, 99% of child rapists would never be prosecuted."
Then there was Kathy Harless, convicted of murder and sentenced to life after she gave birth at a flea market in 2003 and threw the baby in an outhouse's cesspool, and Kurt Robert Smith, who was just 17 when he was convicted of murdering his six-week-old son Blake in 2002. The baby's "brain was so swollen that the seams between the bones in his skull were pushed half an inch apart, a state medical examiner testified."
Of Harless, Bevin wrote that she had "paid enough for the death of her newborn son." Similarly, Smith had been "duly punished," Bevin wrote, adding,
I am confident that he will become a productive member of society and encourage him to use his life experience to educate and help others.
How true this is, although we don't see Smith being invited to teach a lot of "don't beat your newborn to death" classes to expectant parents.
Bevin also issued a pardon for Blake Walker, who was convicted of murdering his parents and stashing their bodies in a basement in 2002. Walker was 16 at the time of the killings.
Bevin wrote that Walker, now 33, is "blessed by a loving and forgiving family and it is this alone that tips the delicate balance in the direction of his request."
He also said that while Walker committed a crime "for which only God can provide true forgiveness," he was commuting Walker's sentence "so that he can proceed with his life, unrestricted in his efforts to serve the world and the needs of others in a way that would best honor the lives and life work of his mother and father."
Good thing that Walker has a loving and forgiving family, what's left of it.
- Delmar Partin: Convicted of the 1994 murder of Betty Carnes, who worked with him. After bludgeoning and choking her, Partin beheaded her body and stuffed it in a barrel headed for a toxic waste dump. Bevin said he thought the state should have proven its case with DNA evidence. The prosecutor found the pardon "mystifying" and chalked it up to the "arrogance of one who has a God-like image of himself."
- Daniel Grubb: Convicted of murder after a drunken episode in which he threw a cinder block at a guy, killing him, then later asked a friend to help hide the body.
- Irvin Edge: Convicted of murder and solicitation of murder after hiring a hit man to kill his business partner in 1991.
- Leif Halvorsen: Sentenced to death for murdering three people in 1983. Bevin commuted the sentence to life in prison, and we're OK with life sentences instead of executions.
- Brett Whittaker: Sentenced to 20 years for two counts of "wanton murder" in 2011 after killing two people in a 2010 head-on collision while drunk. The couple he killed were on their way to help build a church. Bevin wrote that Whittaker has transformed his life "spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. "
- Dayton Jones: Pleaded guilty in 2016 to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy and possessing child porn.
- Charles Doug Phelps: Pleaded guilty in 2013 to possession of child pornography and witness tampering. Bevin wrote that the case was "long on duration, long on accusation, long on drama and short on evidence."
While we were putting together that very partial collage up top, we sure noticed a lot of photos of white people who did terrible things and got pardons from Matt Bevin. Now, it's true that Kentucky is a very pale state; 86 percent of its population is white, and only eight percent of the residents are black. Not surprisingly, though, the prison population doesn't reflect those numbers. Only 64 percent of prisoners are white, but 29 percent of prisoners are black.
We're sure it's all a coincidence that, of the killers and rapers Bevin freed, most just happened to be white. Thank goodness he did at least commute the sentence of Gregory Wilson from death to life in prison, with a chance at parole after 30 years. Though as the Washington Post notes, "Wilson's 1988 murder trial had been plagued by legal and ethical issues," but apparently they weren't awful enough to merit an outright pardon, or Wilson's family didn't give Bevin's campaign enough money.
WaPo also notes the case of another black person Bevin pardoned:
Bevin also pardoned Louisville community activist Christopher IIX, who was convicted of possession of a controlled substance in 1990 and theft by failure to make disposition in 1997, according to local reports. In the pardon, Bevin said the activist "has turned his life around after a rocky start many years ago and has paid his debt to society."
While your Wonkette are not prison-abolitionists, we don't tend to be LOCK EM UPS either. We believe in empathy even for those convicted of terrible crimes, who often were victims of terrible crimes themselves during their formative years, or -- like some of those Bevin pardoned above -- committed their terrible crimes before their brains had fully matured. But we've also been noticing quite a few old white man judges and governors who are pretty quick to pardon fellow white men if their victims are children or (headless) women.
And Bevin, well that guy's just a dick.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.