JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Four inmates pardoned by former Gov. Haley Barbour are scheduled to be released Saturday, including a South African man whose pardon had the support of a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a former South African president.
Barbour, a nationally-known Republican who once considered running for president, pardoned nearly 200 people before finishing his second term in January. Ten of the inmates were incarcerated at the time. A judge ordered five of them to remain in prison pending the outcome of Attorney General Jim Hood’s legal challenge of the pardons.
The court ruled Thursday the pardons were legal.
One of the inmates, Joshua Howard, was released Wednesday because his sentence was over. Howard was sentenced March 9, 2009, for statutory rape.
Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Booth said Friday the others will be released Saturday, including Azikiwe Kambule, sentenced in 1997 to 35 years for armed carjacking and accessory after the fact to murder. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Nobel winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu were among numerous people who had called for a pardon or some type of compassionate release given Kambule’s age, 17, at the time of his arrest. He is now 33.
Barbour has not said how or why he chose Kambule for a pardon, but he has said his Christian faith leads him to believe in second chances. A statement Thursday said the decisions were “based on repentance, rehabilitation, and redemption, leading to forgiveness.”
Kambule’s case got international attention when a prosecutor initially said he would seek the death penalty for those involved in slaying of social worker Pamela McGill in 1996.
At trial, Kambule testified that his friend, Santonia Berry, wanted McGill’s red 1993 Dodge Stealth so they followed the 31-year-old woman home and kidnapped her at gunpoint. Kambule said McGill cried and pleaded for her life as she was taken to the woods in Madison County where Berry shot her in the head.
Berry was sentenced to life without parole. Kambule was sentenced to 30 years for armed carjacking and five years as an accessory.
Kambule’s supporters said life was difficult for him in the two years he lived in Mississippi because other students made fun of his accent and he was susceptible to bad influences.
Kambule’s parents plan to take him back to South Africa soon after his release, according to their attorney Cynthia Stewart.
“They are anxiously awaiting his release,” Stewart said.
Booth said state regulations require that the inmates be held for 48 hours after MDOC notifies their victims and officials in the counties where the crime happened.
The others to be released on Saturday are:
_Aaron Brown, sentenced in August 1997 for murder. He had previously been sentenced for carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a controlled substance. He was serving a life sentence.
_Katherine Robertson, sentenced in March 2007 on a charge of aggravated assault. She was scheduled for release in 2015.
_Kirby Glenn Tate, sentenced in February 2004 for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of the prescription drug oxycodone. He had previous drug convictions. His tentative released date was 2063.
Most of the people Barbour pardoned had been out of prison, in some cases for year, when he granted them reprieves. Of the ten who were incarcerated at the time of the pardons, five worked as inmate trusties at the Governor’s Mansion, including four convicted killers and a man serving life for armed robbery. They were released in January.
A Hinds County Circuit Court judge granted Hood’s request to hold the other five while the courts weighed the legality of the pardons.
Hood challenged the pardons, claiming many of them didn’t follow a requirement in the state Constitution to publish notices in newspapers for 30 days.
In their 6-3 opinion, the Mississippi Supreme Court wrote “we are compelled to hold that _ in each of the cases before us _ it fell to the governor alone to decide whether the Constitution’s publication requirement was met.” The court also said it couldn’t overturn the pardons because of the Constitution’s separation of powers of the different branches of government.
Hood said during a news conference Friday that he was surprised by the court’s ruling, but there’s probably not much he can do about it.
“A petition for rehearing would be an option. But with the vote how it is I doubt it would probably make a change. But that’s about the last resort the state would have,” he said.
Hood’s office says March 22 would be the deadline to file a petition for rehearing.
Hood said he will work to get an initiative on the ballot to amend the state Constitution to make the 30-day notice a requirement.
Barbour has said Hood is playing politics. Hood is the only Democrat in a statewide office in Mississippi and the two often clashed during Barbour’s terms.
Associated Press writer Laura Tillman in Jackson contributed to this report.
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