Haley Barbour, the outgoing Mississippi governor, has pardoned four convicted murderers, sparking outrage among the relatives of the killers' victims.
"Is Gov. Barbour going to pardon us from our aches and pains and heartache that we have to suffer?" CNN quoted one victim's mother, Betty Ellis, as saying. "Is he going to pardon a child that had to grow up without a mother? Is he going to pardon me from never being able to feel her arms around my neck again? What is Barbour going to do about that?"
All four of those pardoned and released Sunday were serving life sentences, and all worked at the governor's mansion, including a man who was denied parole less than two weeks ago, according to MSNBC.
That man, David Glenn Gatlin, shot dead his estranged wife while she cradled their baby in 1993.
Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, leaves office on Tuesday and according to reports had not responded to requests for comment.
Barbour told the AP in 2008 that releasing the trusties who live and work at the mansion — typically on kitchen duty, waiting tables, or cleaning and washing vehicles — is a tradition in Mississippi that goes back decades.
In the executive orders Barbour signed granting the full pardons for Gatlin, Joseph Ozment, Charles Hooker and Anthony McCray, he reportedly wrote that each had "proved to be a diligent and dedicated workman."
Barbour issued the pardons on Friday and family members of victims said they learned of them on Saturday from a victims’ advocate organization, the Toronto Sun reported.
Suzanne Singletary, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, told CNN that:
Gatlin was convicted of murder, aggravated assault and burglary of a residence and Ozment was convicted of murder, conspiracy and armed robbery, while Hooker was convicted in a 1991 murder and McCray was convicted in a 2001 murder.
In 1993, [CNN affiliate] WLBT reported, Gatlin walked into the trailer where his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis Gatlin, lived and shot her in the head. The woman's friend, Randy Walker, survived a gunshot to the head.
Tammy Gatlin's sister, Tiffany Ellis Brewer, said David Gatlin served less time than her sister lived.
"It's completely unfair," she said. "I mean, he's in jail for 18 years. She was 20 years old when she died and had her child laying in her arms when he shot her in the head. And he's pardoned?"
Democratic lawmakers have called for an end to the custom of governors' issuing such end-of-tenure pardons.