Kentucky Politics

Kentucky’s new Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron has asked the FBI to investigate controversial pardons issued by former Gov. Matt Bevin at the end of his term.

Bevin issued pardons and commutations to more than 650 people during his final weeks in office. Most of those actions were fairly routine — low-level drug offenders who had turned their lives around or cases widely thought to be miscarriages of justice.

But some of the pardons drew controversy, especially the pardon of a Kenton County man convicted of child rape and that of a Knox County man convicted of murder whose family later held a fundraiser for Bevin.

Last month, two Democratic lawmakers asked Cameron to launch an investigation into Bevin’s pardons.

In a letter to the lawmakers on December 30th, Cameron told them that he had sent a formal request to the FBI “to investigate the matter.”

“I stand by the outstanding work of Kentucky’s prosecutors and respect the decisions of juries who convict wrongdoers,” Cameron wrote.

“While Kentucky’s Constitution gives the Governor the power to pardon a person convicted of a crime, I believe the pardon power should be used sparingly and only after great deliberation with due concern for public safety.”

Bevin issued the great majority of his pardons during his final days in office and the public didn’t become aware of the actions until he left office at midnight on December 10th.

The Democratic lawmakers who asked Cameron to investigate the matter — Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey and Representative Chris Harris — issued a statement thanking Cameron.

“We believe strongly that this and potentially other pardons should be investigated impartially, and are pleased that the Attorney General agrees and has asked the FBI to make sure that happens,” they wrote.

Bevin has defended his actions by raising questions about the evidence and prosecutions that produced the convictions.

Regarding the case of Patrick Baker, who was convicted of the 2014 murder of a Knox County man, Bevin told WHAS last month that “law enforcement that was involved in that should be very nervous right now because, I’ll tell you what, not everything is kosher with respect to how that all went down.”

Bevin also defended his pardon of Micah Schoettle, who was convicted of raping a 9 year-old, by claiming the victim wasn’t abused because her hymen was still intact, echoing a myth that examining the small vaginal tissue can prove sexual activity, including rape.

Russell Coleman, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, issued a statement earlier this week saying that those pardoned by Bevin could still be convicted of federal crimes.

“The uniqueness of a situation of federal prosecution following a state executive pardon will, however, require ultimate approval by the highest levels at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.,” Coleman wrote in a statement

“I am particularly concerned about the risk to the public by those previously convicted of sex offenses, who by virtue of the state pardon, will not fall under any post-release supervision or be required to register as sex offenders.”

Bevin has drawn widespread criticism from both political parties for his pardons. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Bevin’s actions “pretty embarrassing” last week. Kentucky’s lone Congressional Democrat John Yarmuth called Bevin’s pardon of Patrick Baker “particularly embarrassing.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.