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Matt Bevin under bipartisan and harsh criticism for long list of ‘extreme’ pardons before leaving office

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, joined a bipartisan lineup of other lawmakers who have spoken up in condemnation of Gov. Matt Bevin’s long list of pardons. In fact, Stivers may have had some of the strongest language of all officials.

“From what we know of former Governor Bevin’s extreme pardons and commutations, the Senate Republican Majority condemns his actions as a travesty and perversion of justice. Our citizens, and especially the crime victims and their families, deserve better. We support the gathering of facts and call upon the U.S. Attorney’s office to launch an investigation into former Governor Bevin’s pardons.”

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey and Rep. Chris Harris asked incoming Attorney General Daniel Cameron to convene a bi-partisan special prosecution team to investigate the pardon process. (Photo by Tom Latek/Kentucky Today)

While Kentucky governors have virtually unlimited power under the state Constitution, Stivers’ comment about the U.S. Attorney could be a reference to the federal Hobbs Act, which deals with bribery, among other things.

A number of other lawmakers,  Republican and Democratic alike, have also addressed the issue.

Two legislative Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey of Louisville and Rep. Chris Harris of Forest Hills, held a press conference Friday to announce they sent a letter to Republican Attorney General-elect Daniel Cameron to convene a bi-partisan special prosecuting team to investigate the pardons.

“These reeks of political favoritism,” McGarvey told reporters. “We can’t have that. People need to trust our system of government and officials are doing the right thing.”

He cited one example that caused them to make the request.

“We have someone who was convicted of killing someone in front of his wife at his home, who pulled the trigger, but the people who drive him away from that crime are still sitting in jail,” McGarvey stated. “It defies any rational explanation how that happens.”

Patrick Brian Baker of London was convicted of reckless homicide, robbery, impersonating a police officer and tampering with evidence. At the time of the pardon, Baker had served two years of a 16-year sentence.

News reports say Baker’s family donated to Matt Bevin’s campaign and even hosted a fundraiser that garnered $21,500 to retire the debt from Bevin’s 2015 campaign.

Harris noted governors have very broad and unfettered pardon powers under the Kentucky Constitution, “But what the Governor does not have the ability to do, is to take something in return.”

The two say some of the pardons appear to be political paybacks.

“I don’t see how, based on what we have, there is any other assumption to draw that two people are sitting in jail because they didn’t have personal favors with the Governor,” said McGarvey.

McGarvey summed up their thoughts by saying, “I can’t speak to the Governor’s motives, but there has been at best a shocking lack of judgment. At worst, you have political pay-for-play at the highest levels of government.”

When asked for comment on the request from Kentucky legislative Democrats, Attorney General-elect David Cameron replied, “The pardon power has been around for a long time. I think it needs to be used very wisely. But I stand with our Commonwealth’s and County attorneys that have made multiple statements on this front.”

Several of the local prosecutors have also condemned Bevin’s actions, including Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders.

Other pardons issued by Bevin, over 400 since he was defeated by Democrat Andy Beshear in November, according to the Associated Press include:

• Delmar Partin, who was convicted of murdering his former lover and stuffing her headless body into a 55-gallon drum at a chemical plant in Barbourville in 1993.

• Greg Wilson, who was convicted in 1987 of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Deborah Pooley in Covington. Her body was dumped in Indiana and not found for two weeks.

• Micah Schoettle, who was sentenced last year to 23 years in prison for raping a 9-year-old child in Kenton County.

• Dayton Jones, who pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a 15 year old boy in Hopkinsville and was serving 15 years.

But it’s not just Democrats reacting to the pardons.

A strong condemnation of the pardons came from U. S. Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, who spoke to reporters after he filed his papers for reelection in the Secretary of State’s office and said he doesn’t approve.

“It seems to me it was completely inappropriate,” McConnell stated. “I expect he had the power to do it but looking at the examples of people who are incarcerated as the result of heinous crimes, no, I don’t approve of it.”

Chris McDaniel

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, says he will file legislation during the 2020 session as a result of the uproar over the pardons.

“It is clear from the events at the end of the Bevin administration that reform is needed to the power of a governor to pardon and commute sentences,” McDaniel said. “I will be introducing a constitutional amendment in the 2020 Legislative Session that will eliminate those powers for the month leading up to an election and for the time between an election and a swearing-in of a new governor. If a governor wants to use the power to commute and pardon, he should be willing to stand in front of the voters and be held accountable for those actions.”

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, also appeared to disagree with the action.

“As we learn more about how the former Governor chose to use his authority to issue pardons, we are reminded that with the power to pardon must come the judgment and discretion to use that power judiciously,” Osborne said.

“Like all authority associated with elected office, it must be free from political and personal interest and balanced with the impact it has on the victims and our communities and justice system.”

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