Richard Mitchell Hit Piece, Funded by Republicans, is Crude Caricature--of the GOP

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Last week, the state Republican party sent out a mailer attacking King County Council candidate Richard Mitchell for his role in seeking clemency for Barry Massey. It's an attack that sells Republicans short.

"I think it's revealing about how far left he is," state GOP chair Kirby Wilbur told The Seattle Times, explaining the mailer.

Yet it's crazy to put the Massey case in a partisan box. As we reported in a 2007 cover story, Massey is serving a life sentence for a crime he committed when he was just 13, making him the youngest person in this country ever to be sent away for good. His crime was murder, but it's not clear whether the adolescent did the killing, or was merely present when Steilacoom store owner Paul Wang was shot and stabbed during a petty robbery turned violent.

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What is clear is that Massey transformed himself to such an extent that prison guards wrote in to the state Clemency and Pardons Board on his behalf. One even fell in love with Massey, and the two (pictured at left) later married.

Although the clemency board voted to free Massey, Gregoire turned him down, inviting him to reapply in a few years. He did--this time with the help of the man who had previously served as the governor's chief counsel: Richard Mitchell.

"My instinct told me there was more to this case than I knew," Mitchell told SW last year, explaining his decision to spend a year delving into the details of the case. He submitted an extensive memo to the clemency board, which was deeply divided this time around and ultimately voted against recommending mercy. (The nay-saying board members held against Massey his relationship with a guard.)

The Republican party almost certainly did not spend a year researching Massey before it decided that, as Wilbur also told the Times, this is a case that most lawyers wouldn't "want to touch." It dashed off a hit piece that quotes Wang's widow in calling Massey a brutal murderer, says nothing about his age at the time or his redemption since, and identifies Mitchell as "the de-facto spokesperson for the killer."

To say that sympathizing with Massey is tantamount to left-wing extremism is to say that Democrats have a lock on compassion. It's true, Democrats like to believe this. And yet Mike Huckabee, for one, proves that is not the case. The former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate used his clemency powers prodigiously, so much so that he came under fire when one of those to whom he had shown mercy, Maurice Clemmons, ended up killing four Lakewood police officers.

Huckabee may have been wrong in the Clemmons case, but it wasn't because the conservative Christian was too far left. Take a look at who volunteers in prisons and you'll find a lot of people not too different from Huckabee. (See, for instance, the prison fellowship started by former Nixon aide Chuck Colson.) Mercy, fortunately, is bigger than politics.

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