After conceding to Democrat Andy Beshear — but before giving up his governorship — Kentucky’s now-former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin pardoned 428 people between election day through the end of his term Monday, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, including some who committed violent offenses.
Bevin narrowly lost to Beshear in November, by about 5,000 votes. After calling for a recanvass, he conceded to the loss nearly a week later. Since that time, he’s issued 428 pardons, including to a man convicted of reckless homicide, a convicted child rapist, a man who murdered his parents at age 16, and a woman who threw her newborn in the trash after giving birth in a flea market outhouse.
Bevin wrote that the woman, Kathy Harless, had “paid enough for the death of her newborn son.”
In one case, a man was convicted of homicide and other crimes in a 2014 home invasion. Patrick Baker was pardoned after his family raised $21,500 at a political fundraiser last year to help repay debt from Bevin’s 2015 gubernatorial campaign, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
In 2018, a photo was found of Bevin at the home of Baker’s brother and sister-in-law.
Bevin has also pardoned Dayton Jones, a man who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy at a party. The incident was captured on video and shared to social media; the boy suffered internal injuries as a result of the attack.
Governors often issue pardons as they leave office, but Bevin’s odd choices have infuriated some of the state’s attornies. Commonwealth’s attorney Jackie Steele — a Republican like Bevin — said it would be an “understatement to say I am aggrieved” by the pardons.
Steele said that in the Baker case, Bevin did not pardon Baker’s co-conspirators in the robbery and homicide. Steele said he believes Baker was pardoned because of the money his family had donated to Bevin.
Judge David Williams sentenced Baker in 2017. He told the Courier Journal that, in his 30 years of practice, “I’ve never seen a more compelling or complete case… The evidence was just overwhelming.”
“I’m a big believer in second chances,” Bevin told The Washington Post on Thursday. “I think this is a nation that was founded on the concept of redemption and second chances and new pages in life.”
He claimed on Twitter that “not a single person was released who had not already been scheduled for a specific release date or who was sentenced with the eligibility to be considered for early release.”
“The vast majority of those who were pardoned, have actually been out of prison for years and have fully paid their debt to society,” Bevin added.
Lawyer Eddy Montgomery said the pardoned criminals’ victims received no warning of their release, and he rushed to inform families before they were blindsided.
Montgomery said he was particularly shocked to see Brett Whitaker pardoned — Whitaker was convicted of two counts of murder after killing a pastor and his wife while driving under the influence in 2011.
Another pardon was granted to Micah Schoettle, who was convicted last spring of raping a 9-year-old child and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Bevin wrote that Schoettle had been convicted of the crime “based only on testimony that was not supported by any physical evidence.”
The governor has full jurisdiction over pardons under Kentucky’s constitution, except in cases of treason against the state.
On Thursday, Beshear restored voting rights to 140,000 convicted non-violent felons, just days after being sworn into office.
The state used to allow non-violent offenders to vote after they’d served their sentence, but in 2015 Bevin reversed the order. Kentucky was just one of two states with lifetime disenfranchisement laws that barred convicted felons from voting, regardless of the crime.
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