JACKSON, MS (abc24.com) – The former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour breaks his silence. He spoke to Mississippi media only. He's defending his last minute, controversial pardons. He pardoned more than 200 convicted criminals including killers, drug dealers, and rapists. Among them is Joseph Ozment. He was convicted of the 1992 murder of a Desoto County store clerk. Ozment and 4 other men serving life sentences for murder and robbery walked out of jail last weekend as free men, and it began a firestorm of controversy.
The former governor says he's "very comfortable" with his decision and believes his pardons are legally valid. He justified his actions by saying he wanted the ex-cons to get jobs, vote, even hunt, calling it the Christian thing to do.
"Christianity teaches us forgiveness and second chances. I believe in second chances," said Barbour in a news conference Friday afternoon.
He gave second chances to more than 215 convicted criminals. Those criminals received some sort of pardon or clemency. Most of them already served their time in prison, but a few dozen were still incarcerated, including convicted murderer Ozmet. Barbour talked about his faith that led to his decision.
"Most Mississippians profess to be Christians of some type. Marsha and I are Evangelical Christians,” said Barbour. "The historic power of gubernatorial clemency by the governor to pardon felons is rooted in the Christian idea of giving second chances."
The Mississippi Department of Corrections said the 5 violent convicts that walked out of prison last weekend were serving life sentences and worked as inmate trusties at the governor's mansion. Barbour gave those men a full and complete unconditional pardon. What is scary to many, these pardoned convicts can now legally buy guns.
“It means that they have restored all their rights they would have had beforehand. They are released and their criminal record can be expunged. There are no restrictions on their liberty. It's as if the conviction has never occurred,” said University of Memphis Law Professor Steve Mulroy.
When asked if the former governor is worried about these convicted criminals will do wrong again he says he's confident the men in question won't commit another crime. In fact, he says those men that worked in his mansion played with his grandchildren.