The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Defeated GOP governor pardoned violent criminals in a spree lawyers are calling an ‘atrocity of justice’

Republican Matt Bevin, seen in October, issued 428 pardons between his narrow loss to Democrat Andy Beshear in November and the end of his term as Kentucky governor on Tuesday. (Albert Cesare/Cincinnati Enquirer/AP)

Update: Kentucky Republican Senate president calls for U.S. attorney to launch an investigation into Bevin’s pardons; Bevin tweets statement in defense

Matt Bevin is no longer the governor of Kentucky, but his decisions continued to send shock waves through the state’s legal system this week after he issued pardons for hundreds of people, some of whom committed violent offenses.

Bevin issued 428 pardons since his defeat to Democrat Andy Beshear in a close election in November, the Louisville Courier Journal reported. His list includes a man convicted of reckless homicide, a convicted child rapist, a man who murdered his parents at age 16 and a woman who threw her newborn in the trash after giving birth in a flea market outhouse.

He also pardoned Dayton Jones, who was convicted in the sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy at a party, Kentucky New Era reported.

It is not unusual for governors to issue pardons as they leave office, but Bevin’s actions boggled some of the state’s attorneys, who questioned his judgment.

“What this governor did is an absolute atrocity of justice,” said Commonwealth Attorney Jackie Steele, a prosecutor for Knox and Laurel counties. “He’s put victims, he’s put others in our community in danger.”

“I’m a big believer in second chances,” Bevin said in a message left with The Washington Post on Thursday afternoon. “I think this is a nation that was founded on the concept of redemption and second chances and new pages in life.”

“If there has been a change and there’s no further value that comes for the individual, for society, for the victims, for anybody, if a person continues to stay in,” Bevin said, “then that’s when somebody should be considered for a commutation or a pardon.”

One lawyer said the victims of the pardoned criminals received no warning. Instead, Eddy Montgomery found out through news reports and rushed to inform families before they were blindsided.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Trump ally, concedes reelection bid

“We’re pretty shocked about it,” said Montgomery, the prosecutor overseeing Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties.

Montgomery said he was startled to see Brett Whittaker — a man who was convicted on two counts of murder for killing a pastor and his wife while driving under the influence in 2011 — on Bevin’s pardon list. At the time, Whittaker was on probation for a separate assault offense.

Steele said he was particularly disturbed by the pardon of Patrick Brian Baker, whose brother hosted a fundraiser for Bevin and donated to him over the years, the Courier Journal reported.

Baker was convicted in 2017 of reckless homicide, robbery, impersonating a peace officer and tampering with evidence for his role in a 2014 home invasion that resulted in the death of Donald Mills. Baker had served just two years of his 19-year sentence when Bevin pardoned him to time served on Dec. 6.

In 2017, Mills’s sister, Melinda Smith, told WYMT that it was a “blessing for our family to see [Baker] get sentenced.”

Steele, who prosecuted Baker, noted that Bevin did not pardon his co-conspirators in the robbery and homicide.

Baker’s brother and sister-in-law, Eric and Kathryn Baker, held a fundraiser for Bevin in July 2018 and raised $21,500 to pay off Bevin’s 2015 campaign debts, the Courier-Journal reported; the couple also donated $4,000 to his campaign at the same event. Kathryn Baker donated another $500 to Bevin’s 2019 reelection effort, the Journal found.

The News Journal, a local paper, covered the fundraiser in a story on Aug. 1, 2018, and ran accompanying photos of the couple with Bevin.

Steele said that when news of the pardons broke, people sent him the photograph. He said he recognized the Bakers immediately, that he knew the family from community events and that he had seen the couple in court for Patrick Baker’s trial.

Eric and Kathryn Baker could not immediately be reached for comment.

A spokesman for Bevin’s gubernatorial campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.

Bevin said he pardoned Baker because he “made a series of unwise decisions in his adult life” and that “his drug addiction resulted in his association with people that in turn led to his arrest, prosecution and conviction for murder.”

Bevin’s formal pardon also states that “the evidence supporting [Baker’s] conviction is sketchy at best.”

“I have no idea as to what he is speaking of in regards to sketchy evidence or the conviction being sketchy,” Steele told The Post in response.

The state Department of Corrections confirmed that Baker had been released on Wednesday.

Not all of Bevin’s pardons stirred controversy. He spared death row inmate Gregory Wilson by commuting his sentence to life with the possibility of parole after 30 years, the Courier Journal reported. Wilson’s 1988 murder trial had been plagued by legal and ethical issues.

Bevin also pardoned Louisville community activist Christopher IIX, who was convicted of possession of a controlled substance in 1990 and theft by failure to make disposition in 1997, according to local reports. In the pardon, Bevin said the activist “has turned his life around after a rocky start many years ago and has paid his debt to society.”

Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin conceded defeat on Nov. 14 to Democrat Andy Beshear. (Video: Reuters)

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