Kentucky Politics

Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin departed the governor’s mansion three days ago, but the reverberations of some of his final actions are still being felt across the state.

Bevin, a Republican who narrowly lost a bid for a second term last month, issued pardons to hundreds of people, including convicted rapists, murderers and drug offenders.

In one case, Bevin pardoned a man convicted of homicide. That man’s family raised more than $20,000 at a political fundraiser to help Bevin pay off a debt owed from his 2015 gubernatorial campaign.

In all, the former governor signed off on 428 pardons and commutations since his loss to Democrat Andy Beshear, according to The Courier-Journal. The paper notes, “The beneficiaries include 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.”

Bevin’s controversial decisions have been greeted with shock and consternation from many across the state.

Some residents reacted angrily to a Thursday Twitter post from Bevin’s official account of a sunset along with #WeAreKY.

“Winter sunset … ,” Bevin wrote, “Phone camera doesn’t do it justice…Truly spectacular. #WeAreKY”

Twitter user Josh Trosper blasted the governor in a tweet: “I guess you can snap pics when you don’t have the time to look families (or voters) in the face and tell them you pardoned murderers and rapists.”

Rob Sanders, the Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he had backed Bevin, but that the pardons changed his mind.

“I was somebody who supported him and believed in him and I’m disgusted at myself for having done so,” Sanders said to the Enquirer about Bevin.

One pardon that had Sanders — and many others — particularly outraged was that of Micah Schoettle. He’s a 41-year-old convicted of raping a 9-year-old child last year. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison, according to the Courier Journal.

In his pardon order, Bevin wrote, “Micah Schoettle was tried and convicted of a heinous crime based only on testimony that was not supported by any physical evidence.”

He added: “This 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.”

Bevin commuted Schoettle’s sentenced to time served and ordered a full and unconditional pardon.

Another of Bevin’s pardons was of Patrick Brian Baker, who was convicted in 2017 of murdering Donald Mills and tampering with physical evidence, among other charges.

As the Courier Journal also reports, Baker’s family “raised $21,500 at a political fundraiser last year to retire debt from Bevin’s 2015 gubernatorial campaign.” Baker’s brother and sister-in-law also donated $4,000 to Bevin campaign, according to a state election finance database, the paper reports.

“Patrick Baker is a man who has made a series of unwise decisions in his adult life,” Bevin wrote in his pardon letter dated Dec. 6, adding that evidence in his conviction was “sketchy at best.”

“I am not convinced that justice has been served in the death of Donald Mills, nor am I convinced that the evidence has proven the involvement of Patrick Baker as murderer,” Bevin wrote.

Baker was sentenced to 19 years, but served just two. His sentence was commuted to time served and a pardon only for the charges connected to the conviction.

Not all of Bevin’s pardons were so contentious.

He also pardoned Tamishia Wilson of Henderson, Ky., convicted in 2006 of trafficking marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession. She was also convicted in 2004 of theft.

Bevin proclaimed in a Dec. 9 letter that she “is a new woman. She has turned her life around and become a model citizen.”

The former governor also spared the life of death row inmate Gregory Wilson who was convicted in 1988 of murder. The Courier Journal reports the trial was widely described as “a travesty of justice and a national embarrassment for Kentucky.”

The paper said Wilson’s defense team consisted of two lawyers, one whom “had never tried a felony before” and a lead counsel who “had no office, no law books and on his business card, he gave out the phone number to a local tavern.”

An array of other ethical woes plagued the case.

Bevin commuted his sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole, writing that Wilson received “the short end of the justice stick” adding, “Regardless of the final resolution of future parole board hearings, Mr. Wilson at least deserves an equal opportunity for justice to be served.”

Reached on Thursday for comment by The Washington Post, Bevin said of the pardons, “I’m a believer in second chances.”

“If there has been a change and there’s no further value that comes for the individual, for society, for the victims, for anybody, if a person continues to stay in,” Bevin noted, “then that’s when somebody should be considered for a commutation or a pardon.”

During his tenure as governor, Bevin took a special interest in criminal justice reform and creating Kentucky’s Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council. At the council’s first meeting in 2016, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported the panel’s mission was to “study the state’s criminal code… and suggest improvements for the 2017 General Assembly to consider.”

In 2017, Bevin, through an executive order, restored the voting rights of 284 people convicted of nonviolent felonies, according to WFPL.

Earlier this year Bevin signed a bill that deepened the pool of people eligible to have their low-level criminal records expunged.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.