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Judge Blocks Pardons Issued By Outgoing Mississippi Gov. Barbour

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R).
Rogelio V. Solis
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R).

Most of the 203 pardons, clemencies and sentence reductions granted by outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) just before he left office Tuesday, which ignited a firestorm of criticism and controversy in the state, are now in legal limbo.

Jackson's Clarion-Ledger reports that Hinds County (Miss.) County Circuit Judge Tomie Green on Wednesday blocked the pardons issued by Barbour because they may have violated the state's constitution and because "there is a sufficient threat of irreparable injury should the subject individuals be released." The vast majority of Barbour's orders ( posted here) were full pardons.

According to the newspaper, Green ordered "five inmates, four of them convicted murderers, who have [already] gone free ... to report each day to the state Department of Corrections and to her courtroom on Jan. 23." She also ordered a hold on the processing for release of other inmates who were pardoned.

The constitutional argument centers on whether legal notices, as required, were published in newspapers at least 30 days before the orders were issued. The Clarion-Ledgersays that "in many cases, notices failed to run on time. In a few cases, notices never ran."

For his part, The Associated Press reports, Barbour issued a statement Wednesday saying in part:

"The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote. My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 percent of the cases."

Among the pardons that drew the most criticism, as we reported Wednesday, was that granted to convicted killer David Gatlin. He killed his estranged wife in 1993 as she held their young child, then shot a friend.

Barbour is, of course, a national figure as well as a former two-term governor. He flirted with the idea of running for president this year and is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.