Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe will not pardon the WM3 before he leaves office at the end of this year.
He explained that he was constrained from granting any form of clemency because none of the West Memphis Three requested it.
Beebe’s statement came in response to a letter I’d written asking broadly that he “exonerate” the men. I also supported a petition posted on Change.org, seeking a pardon for them. In two weeks, the petition garnered 1,913 signatures.
But in his recent letter to me, Beebe noted that, as far as his office was aware, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley had not applied for executive clemency. “As you know,” he wrote, “these determinations move quite slowly through the legal system and I have a very short time left in office.”
In a follow-up phone call, Beebe’s spokesman, Matt DeCample said that Beebe and his staff believe the Arkansas Supreme Court has established that a governor cannot grant any form of executive clemency unless an application for clemency has first been made to the Arkansas Parole Board and the board has issued its recommendation.
The parole board reviews applications in the order they are received, DeCample said, and that is “about a six- to nine-month process.” Since Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley have not applied and Beebe has less than ten weeks remaining in office, he said that, even if one were to submit an application now, “There would not be a chance for it to be heard during our administration.”
The state constitution empowers governors to “grant reprieves, commutations of sentence, and pardons, after conviction.” But DeCample noted that this power is conditioned by the phrase: “under such rules and regulations as shall be prescribed by law.”
He said that Arkansas Supreme Court opinions in 1926 and 1945 determined that limits set by the legislature were mandatory. A supreme court opinion last year, in the case Holloway v. Beebe, reinforced those earlier rulings, ruling that such statutory restrictions “do not proscribe the governor’s ability to grant pardons.”
I emailed attorneys for Baldwin, Echols and Misskelley to ask why their clients had not sought clemency. John Philipsborn, Baldwin’s lead attorney, had no comment on that. However, he said that he, Baldwin and attorney Blake Hendrix “continue to investigate and work on the case with the aim of getting Jason further relief and exoneration.”
(After the recent petition went online, DeCample told reporter John Lyon of the Arkansas News Bureau that Beebe “continues to believe the appropriate place to seek exoneration of the men is the court system.”)
Misskelley attorney Jeff Rosenzweig, said: “If and when Baldwin and Echols were to make application, we would probably join in. Because of the nature of the Misskelley case, it is more appropriate that we be part of the group.”
Although Echols signed the petition at Change.org, his lead attorney, Stephen Braga, did not respond to the question about why he had not formally applied for a pardon.