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Pascagoula

Bills in Mississippi would work to limit paroles

By CHERIE WARD

The Mississippi Press

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) - Rep. Brandon Jones knows changing

Mississippi's Constitution will not be easy, but it's something he

feels compelled to accomplish.

Jones' desire took hold in July when Gov. Haley Barbour

suspended Michael David Graham's life sentence after the inmate

served 19 years for stalking and killing his ex-wife, Adrienne

Klasky Graham, here in 1989.

Graham served four of his 19 years working as a trusty at the

Governor's Mansion. Barbour has said he will pardon Graham if he

does well outside of prison.

"At the very least, we should give the people who were most

impacted by a crime a chance to explain their side of the story,"

said Jones, D-Pascagoula.

"I believe that had the Michael Graham situation been brought

before the people of Jackson County, the sheriff's office and the

district attorney's office, we would have had a very different

outcome. That's why these bills make sense."

Jones has written two bills that will be introduced on Jan. 6

when the Mississippi Legislature convenes.

"The first bill is a constitutional amendment," Jones said,

"which will make it impossible for any governor to pardon, or

provide other relief, for a murderer or capital murderer. This

includes commutation of sentence or suspension of sentence."

Jones said he has also written a bill that will require a

governor considering release of an inmate to alert the district

attorney and the sheriff's department in the county where the crime

occurred.

The measure also requires a public hearing where the crime

occurred, Jones said, adding that there are no stipulations for

Mississippi governors who consider pardons.

"One of the most surprising things about the Graham situation

is that our local district attorney and sheriff were not contacted

prior to his release," Jones said. "They found out through a

(family member). That's disheartening and confusing. Therefore,

this bill is like a safety net."

Jones has spent much of his summer speaking to victims' advocate

groups, trying to perfect the language in the legislation.

"There are a lot of things that do not make sense about the

pardoning process and the trusty process," Jones said. "These two

bills pertain to the pardoning process. One will take it away and

the other is a safeguard in case we don't go forward with the

amendment."

To change the Mississippi Constitution, Jones will need a

three-fifths vote from 122 House members and a three-fifths vote

from 52 Senate members to allow Mississippi voters to decide the

issue in a special election.

"I know it's a tall order," Jones said. "I have little

question about how the voters in this state will respond to this,

but the Legislature is another story. We know it's going to be

difficult."

Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, has requested drafts of

Jones' bills be sent to the Senate. Baria said he and Jones plan to

work across the chambers to pass the legislation.

"We're going to approach this from both ends," the Moss Point

native said. "Nobody wants to see a murderer like Graham walking

around free."

Baria said that although he has not lived in Jackson County for

years, he remembers the murder well.

"Governors have always executed the pardoning process in a

judicial manner," Baria said. "They typically release the ones

who were drunk in a bar fight and killed someone accidentally. This

man was a stalker who committed the premeditated murder of his

wife. This release was outside the ordinary."

Trusties are prisoners who earn privileges through good

behavior. There was even a time, years ago, when inmates known as

"trusty shooters" were given guns and allowed to watch over other

prisoners at Parchman, the notorious prison farm in the Mississippi

Delta.

Mississippi governors have the authority to pardon, commute or

suspend sentences.

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Information from: The Mississippi Press,

http://www.gulflive.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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