spiderweb.thumbnail.jpg(First let me say I love FDL’s new look and the additions of Marcy and TBogg. This site rocks. And now on to Late Night…)

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive….

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is on the ropes after his repeated denials that he recommended parole for Arkansas rapist and murderer Wayne Dumond. For background on the Wayne Dumond case, check out Byron York’s article today at the National Review.

It began in September 1984, when Dumond, a 35-year-old handyman, kidnapped and raped a 17-year-old high-school cheerleader in the small eastern-Arkansas town of Forrest City. Dumond was allowed to remain free on bond while awaiting trial, and in March 1985 two masked men entered his house, tied him up with fishing line, and castrated him. People were stunned; the case, already notorious, became much more so. And that was before the local sheriff, a rather colorful man named Coolidge Conlee, displayed Dumond’s severed testicles in a jar of formaldehyde on his desk in the St. Francis County building. Amid tons of publicity, Dumond was found guilty and sentenced to life plus 20 years.

The case took on a political coloring when it became known that the victim was a distant cousin of Bill Clinton. After conviction, Dumond, who claimed he was innocent, asked Clinton for clemency. Clinton declined.

For details about what Huckabee knew about Dumond and when he knew it, see Murray Waas’ article at the Huffington Post yesterday. Also, here’s a detailed chronology (pdf) of events concerning the case.

York interviewed Huckabee last August about his role in Dumond’s release.

Last August, Huckabee told me he had his doubts about Dumond’s guilt, and also felt sorry for him over the castration attack.

Huckabee didn’t parole Dumond, the parole board did that. But Huckabee confirmed to CNN that he wrote Dumond a letter, which, as quoted by Byron York, said in part:

“Dear Wayne,” Huckabee wrote in a letter to Dumond. “My desire is that you be released from prison. I feel that parole is the best way for your reintroduction to society to take place.”

Today, Huckabee told Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s Situation Room:

BLITZER: Well, what responsibility do you have in this horrible tragedy that developed?

HUCKABEE: Wolf, my only official action in this was I denied his commutation. It was actual given by Jim Guy Tucker when Bill Clinton was governor back in 1992. It was on my desk. I did consider it. I even thought that he met the criteria for parole in support of it.

I wish I hadn’t. But I didn’t parole him. And governors don’t parole people in Arkansas, nor can they stop a parole. And that’s the tragedy, I think, that this went through several years and many different people. And all of us failed. That’s the truth. All of us failed.

Huckabee, today on CNN, charged the story was being politicized.

"There are families who are truly, understandably and reasonably, grief stricken," Huckabee said. "And for people to now politicize these deaths and to try to make a political case out of it rather than to simply understand that a system failed and that we ought to extend our grief and heartfelt sorrow to these families, I just regret politics is reduced to that."

Now the parole board members are coming out of the woodwork. From ABC News, here’s Huckabee’s latest version:

"At their invitation, I went to their meeting. Someone brought up his case," Huckabee said Tuesday, describing his meeting with the board. "Frankly it was simply part of a broader discussion. I did not ask them to do anything."

Not so, says Butch Reeves who served as Huckabee’s criminal justice counsel and in that capacity worked on all clemency requests.

[Reeves’] account of a key 1996 meeting between then-Gov. Huckabee and the state parole board largely supports an earlier version of the meeting by former board member Charles Chastain. It contrasts with Huckabee’s position that he did not pressure the board.

In a phone interview, Reeves said Huckabee told the board members he thought there was "something nefarious" about the criminal justice system in Dumond’s case, and that the rapist got a "raw deal." Huckabee said he believed Dumond’s sentence, originally a life sentence plus 20 years, was "way out of bounds" for his crime, raping a 17-year-old high school student.

Reeves says he even put Huckabee on the phone with one of Dumond’s alleged rape victims. Murray Waas also talked to Reeves today receiving much of the same information as ABC News. Murray adds,

In a 2002 story I wrote for the Arkansas Times about Huckabee’s role in freeing Dumond, four board members — three of who spoke on the record — said that Huckabee lobbied and pressured board members on the matter. This included the 1996 parole meeting at which the board’s recording secretary — who ordinarily tapes the entire sessions — was asked to leave the room. Several board members and members of the state legislature have said the secret session violated state law.

Huckabee should have been more honest in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with granting clemency or supporting parole. During his term as Governor he granted clemency to hundreds of drug offenders serving excessively long sentences. More Governors should do it.

There also were legitimate doubts about Dumond’s guilt in the Ashley Stevens’ rape case, involving scientific evidence and her identification of Dumond, which were discussed by the appellate courts in his appeals. (Opinions here, here, here and here (pdf).) In addition, Dumond did get a disproportionately high sentence. According to his lawyer, John Wesley Hall, Dumond was the only person charged [added: in St. Francis County] with rape or murder who was sentenced to more than 10 years in the five years before and after the Stevens rape. (Disclosure: Hall is a contributing author on TalkLeft, writing as Last Night in Little Rock.)

Instead of saying, "Yes, I believed Dumond should have been paroled, his sentence was too long, there were doubts about his guilt and I made my thoughts known to the parole board," Huckabee is all over the map, saying he didn’t know a lot about the case; he denied clemency and didn’t pressure the parole board; it’s former Governor Jim Tucker’s fault for reducing Dumond’s sentence to 39 1/2 years, making him eligible for parole; Bill Clinton must have known about it; and on and on.

Sometimes the truth will set you free. I think it’s too late now for Huckabee. He’s caught in a Willie Horton trap, and it’s a web of his own making.

Which is really too bad, because while I don’t want any Republican as President, someone like Huckabee who is willing to exercise clemency, even if wrong sometimes, is preferable to a candidate like Giuliani who is so intent on furthering his law and order image that he is only capable of showing compassion for former offenders who happen to be his cronies and business associates.

(Graphic by oldshoewoman and posted on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.)

Jeralyn Merritt

Jeralyn Merritt

Jeralyn is a Denver-based criminal defense attorney. She writes daily at TalkLeft: the Politics of Crime .