Republican Matt Bevin was finally shoved out of the Kentucky governor’s mansion late Monday night, but the defeated governor has left residents outraged by pardoning hundreds of convicted criminals in his last days, notably including one man whose brother curried favor with Bevin.
A fuller picture of the pardons was made clear this week, leading at least one local prosecutor to warn residents for their safety and some lawmakers to call for an investigation.
In all, Bevin made 428 pardons and commutations since his bitter loss to Democrat Andy Beshear in November, according to a count by the Louisville Courier-Journal. While many governors issue pardons as they prepare to leave office, the scale of Bevin’s efforts is notable.
At least one of the convicted murderers set to be released just so happens to belong to a family that raised thousands of dollars for Bevin.
The man, Patrick Baker, was sentenced to 19 years behind bars two years ago for the 2014 murder of 29-year-old Donald Mills. In 2018, Baker’s brother, Eric Baker, and his brother’s wife hosted a fundraiser for Bevin at their home where they raised more than $20,000 to help alleviate debt from his 2015 gubernatorial campaign. The couple also donated $4,000 to Bevin by themselves.
In his order, the now-former governor determined that the evidence against Baker was “sketchy” and he was not personally convinced that justice had been served. Two other people convicted in the murder were not pardoned.
The Kentucky prosecutor who handled the case told the Courier-Journal it would be an “understatement to say I am aggrieved” by Baker’s pardon.
A pair of Democratic state lawmakers are now calling on Kentucky’s incoming attorney general to open an investigation into Bevin’s pardoning spree, The Associated Press reported Friday, focusing in particular on the Baker case.
“I don’t see how, based on what we have in front of us, there is any other assumption to draw than two people are sitting in jail because they didn’t have personal favors with the governor,” state Sen. Morgan McGarvey told the outlet. “There is one person who is out who did.”
State Rep. Chris Harris told AP that “several” of the pardons were granted to people from wealthy families.
Other beneficiaries of Bevin’s spree include a man who hired a hit man to kill his business partner and another man who killed his parents, according to the Courier-Journal.
Bevin also freed convicted child rapist Micah Schoettle, who was sentenced to 23 years behind bars in 2018 for the rape of a 9-year-old.
Rob Sanders, a Kentucky prosecutor, told The Cincinnati Enquirer the decision “shocks the conscience.”
In his defense, Bevin said he was “a big believer in second chances” in a message left for The Washington Post on Thursday.
Late Friday afternoon, he embarked on a tweetstorm defending his actions amid the uproar, arguing that “the vast majority of those who were pardoned, have actually been out of prison for years and had fully paid their debt to society.”
Bevin said he “reviewed hundreds of applications for pardons and commutations and [read] thousands of letters and supporting documents” in order to come to his decisions. Any suggestion that he was swayed by money or politics is “highly offensive,” Bevin tweeted, later bashing “arm-chair critics.”
Kentucky’s prison population has risen in recent years, while most states’ have dropped. Bevin’s administration promoted a bill last year meant to curb the inmate population by reducing certain nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors ― but lawmakers ultimately rejected it.
Meanwhile, in 2015, Bevin issued an executive order rescinding voting rights for formerly incarcerated people with nonviolent felony records. On Thursday, Beshear signed an executive order ― on his third day in office ― to restore voting rights to more than 140,000 nonviolent offenders.
Another man Bevin pardoned in his last days in office, Delmar Partin, was serving life in prison for the gruesome 1993 murder of his co-worker Betty Carnes. Prosecutors said Partin bludgeoned and asphyxiated Carnes to death before severing her head, placing it on her lap and putting both in a 55-gallon barrel, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
Bevin, the outlet said, pardoned Partin because the state had not tested potential DNA evidence. The prosecutor on the case told the Herald-Leader he had not been so angry in a long time.
“I think its the arrogance of one who has a God-like image of himself,” prosecutor Tom Handy said of Bevin. “And a lack of concern for anybody else.”
One lawmaker, Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, has responded by announcing his intent to introduce a measure limiting gubernatorial pardons in the weeks leading up to an election and swearing-in of a new governor.