JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's pardon of a convicted murderer who worked as an inmate trusty at the Governor's Mansion came two weeks after the man was denied parole by a state board.
A letter to one of the victims in the case said the Mississippi Parole Board turned down 40-year-old David Gatlin on Dec. 27. The letter, dated Jan. 4 and obtained by The Associated Press, did not explain why the Parole Board rejected Gatlin's parole request. It said he was due for another parole hearing in October.
Shannon Warnock, chair of the parole board, didn't immediately respond to a message Monday.
Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Suzanne Singletary said Gatlin was released Sunday after being pardoned by Barbour, a Republican who leaves office Tuesday at the end of his second term.
Barbour's office did not respond Sunday and Monday to messages about the pardon. He has said in the past that releasing the trusties who live and work at the mansion is a tradition in Mississippi that goes back decades. Trusties are prisoners who earn privileges through good behavior.
Still, the move angered the victim's relatives and others.
Gatlin was sentenced to life in prison for killing his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis Gatlin, in 1993, and shooting her long-time friend, Randy Walker. Walker survived. The shootings took place in Brandon, Miss.
Walker's mother, Glenda Walker, said Monday that her son is afraid now that Gatlin is free.
"I have to watch him be almost paranoid when people knock on his door," she said Monday in a phone interview.
Walker said Gatlin shot his estranged wife while she was holding their young baby, then shot Randy Walker in the head.
"He left that little baby on his dead mother's body," Glenda Walker said. "It was a horrendous murder."
Walker said she hoped to speak at an afternoon news conference being planned at the state Capitol.
Democrats have pounced on the pardon.
Barbour frequently refers to Mississippi as "the safest state in America for an unborn child."
"Serving your sentence at the Governor's Mansion where you pour liquor, cook and clean should not earn a pardon for murder," Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat, posted Monday on his Facebook page.
"So much for being pro-life when you pardon people who take other people's lives," Presley said in an interview. "In one case, the lady had a 6-month-old baby in her arms when she was murdered."
State Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, also criticized Barbour's action.
"I know that people will say that lame duck pardons are a political tradition but this is one tradition that needs to go away. The people of Mississippi and their justice system deserve better," he said in a statement Sunday.
Members of the Mississippi House Democratic Caucus will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. today at the Mississippi Capitol Rotunda. They plan to announce legislation to prevent the premature pardon or release of murderers. Democratic members of the legislature will be joined by family members of victims.
Barbour created a similar stir by releasing convicted killer Michael Graham in 2008. The Republican later defended the move as "the custom" of governors to cut short the sentences of the mansion's inmate workers if they behave.
Barbour's three predecessors, dating back to 1988, gave some type of early release or pardon to a total of 12 such prisoners. All but two of them had been convicted of murder. One was serving time for forgery and another for armed robbery and aggravated assault.
Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps told the AP for a 2008 story that the inmates who end up working at the Governor's Mansion are often convicted murderers because they are the ones who serve long enough sentences to build the trust needed for such a task.
Associated Press Writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.