Outgoing Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin issued more than 650 last-minute pardons and commutations, some quite controversial, after losing a bid for reelection last year.
Now, new Kentucky Attorney General and fellow Republican Daniel Cameron has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into those legal reprieves.
Some of Bevin's pardons raised eyebrows among Democrats and Republicans alike, including the pardon of Knox County's Patrick Baker, who was convicted in 2017 of murder and impersonating a police officer during a home invasion. Baker's family held a fundraiser for Bevin after his conviction. Two other men convicted in the incident, whose families did not contribute to Bevin's campaign, did not receive pardons, even though prosecutors assert it was Baker who pulled the trigger and killed resident Donald Mills.
Bevin also pardoned Micah Schoettle, a Kenton County man convicted of raping a 9-year-old. Schoettle had served just 18 months of a 23-year sentence for his conviction.
The former governor has said those convictions — and others for which he issued pardons or commutations — were based on sketchy evidence or improper court procedures.
"The facts should matter, and we deserve justice every time there has been a wrong done, not only for the victims but society as whole," Bevin said during a December radio interview. "But the only thing more unjust than not punishing a perpetrator is punishing an innocent person for something they did not do."
Some cases, like that of Gregory Wilson, who was convicted of a brutal1988 murder, did see glaring shortcomings during trial. Bevin commuted Wilson's sentence to life with possibility for parole after 30 years.
Bevin also pardoned more than 300 inmates convicted of non-violent drug offenses.
But prosecutors and some legal experts say other cases are solid, and that Bevin's reprieves raise serious questions.
“I stand by the outstanding work of Kentucky’s prosecutors and respect the decisions of juries who convict wrongdoers,” Cameron wrote in a letter to Kentucky state lawmakers who have been calling for an investigation. "While Kentucky’s Constitution gives the Governor the power to pardon a person convicted of a crime, I believe the pardon power should be used sparingly and only after great deliberation with due concern for public safety."
Those lawmakers, Kentucky Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey and State Rep. Chris Harris, both Democrats, say an investigation is needed to assure the public Bevin's pardons weren't the result of corruption.
"Kentuckians deserve to know if the pardon of Patrick Baker, whose family raised tens of thousands of dollars for Gov. Bevin in 2018, was granted improperly," an earlier Dec. 13 letter from the two asking Cameron to investigate the reprieves reads. "We believe strongly that this and potentially other pardons should be investigated impartially, and are pleased that the Attorney General agrees and has asked the FBI to make sure that happens."