Jeff Ellis listened to the sound of helicopters over his Central District home Sunday night as law-enforcement officers waged a manhunt for suspected cop killer Maurice Clemmons. An attorney who frequently handles clemency cases, Ellis says his thoughts turned from “shock and despair” over the tragedy that took four Lakewood officers’ lives that day to the question of what it might mean for his clients. In short, nothing good.
Clemmons, serving a lengthy prison sentence in Arkansas, was granted clemency in 2000 by former Arkansas governor and onetime presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Now that decision is under intense scrutiny.
“It’s going to make it harder, no question,” Ellis says. “I’m going to have to redouble my efforts.”
Washington governor Chris Gregoire is already no Huckabee. She has granted just 26 clemency requests out of the 215 she’s received in her nearly five years in office. That’s according to a records review her office was already busy conducting on Monday when Seattle Weekly called for the figures. Compare that to the more than 1,000 petitions Huckabee said yes to during his 10 years as governor.
Ellis is currently preparing his case for Mary Ann London, the first woman convicted under Washington’s three-strikes law, who is scheduled to have a hearing in March before the state Clemency and Pardons Board. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has said he is likely to support her petition, as he has those of several three-strikers who received life sentences for robberies alone.
The governor makes the final determination about clemency, and Ellis speculates that Gregoire will be “much more careful” before springing anyone from jail—”appropriately so,” he adds.
Gregoire is already unusually tough. As attorney Sheryl Gordon McCloud notes, Gregoire has turned down cases that the clemency board supported, including that of convicted murderer Barry Massey, sentenced to life for a crime he committed when he was 13. (See “Killing Mercy,” SW, July 4, 2007.)
“I think she already has a very high threshold,” says Gregoire spokesperson Glen Kuper, adding that he doesn’t know that the recent tragedy will “dramatically change anything.” But, he says, “obviously it’s a strong reminder of the risks you run.”