A slew of last-minute pardons by former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin stirred new controversy Tuesday as a clemency recipient whose family raised campaign money for Bevin declared his innocence.
Bevin, a Republican, issued hundreds of pardons between his electoral defeat on Nov. 5 and his final day in office last week.
He said in a series of tweets defending the pardons on Friday that the vast majority went to people who were already out of prison or jail. But media outlets have reported on several pardons that went to people convicted of brutal crimes. And a former state cabinet official expressed reservations to Bevin about a handful of pardons that went to violent offenders.
Among the most controversial pardons was one issued to Patrick Baker, a convicted killer whose family held a fundraiser for Bevin last year. Several state lawmakers have called for federal and state investigations into the Baker pardon.
Baker appeared at a news conference in Lexington on Tuesday, and his attorneys said he’s innocent of the 2014 slaying where he was convicted of posing as a law enforcement officer and killing Donald Mills in Mills’ Knox County home.
Baker’s lawyers said they believe Kentucky State Police botched the investigation and the actual killer has not been brought to justice.
“I did not kill Donald Mills and my family did not pay for my release,” Baker said in a statement.
The state Court of Appeals reviewed Baker’s case last year and ruled unanimously that there was “overwhelming” evidence to convict Baker.
Another man pardoned by Bevin was serving life in prison for killing his infant son. The man, 35-year-old Kurt Robert Smith, was also charged in a prison riot while incarcerated, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Smith had admitted during testimony to violently shaking the baby in 2001. The infant died of blunt trauma to the head. The newspaper reported Smith also was charged in a 2009 inmate riot at Northpoint Training Center near Danville. Several buildings were burned by inmates and some correctional officers were injured in the riot, which caused about $18 million in damage to the prison.
At least one of Bevin’s own cabinet chiefs pushed back on some of the pardons. The former head of the state’s Justice and Public Safety cabinet wrote a Dec. 6 memo saying he had “serious reservations” about some of the pardons Bevin was considering, the Courier Journal reported. John Tilley outlined some violent offenses and said in the memo he could not “in good conscience” recommend pardons for those individuals. Those included Kurt Robert Smith’s case; Delmar Partin, who was convicted of beheading an ex-lover and stuffing her body in a barrel; and Kathy Harless, who was sentenced to life in prison for throwing her newborn baby in a cesspool. Bevin pardoned all three.