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
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
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
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
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
Mississippi governors have the authority to pardon, commute or
Information from: The Mississippi Press,