Beshear joins critics of predecessor's spree of pardons

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FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2019, file photo, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, right, looks out at the crowd during a campaign rally with President Donald Trump in Lexington, Ky. Bevin, who lost to Democrat Andy Beshear last month in a close race, issued more than 400 pardons since the Nov. 5 election, according to the Kentucky Secretary of State's office. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

FRANKFORT, KY – Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has said he wants to resist dwelling on his predecessor's actions but on Monday he spoke out against former Gov. Matt Bevin's spree of pardons , including one for a case he had a role in as attorney general.

On the same day the new Democratic governor rescinded Bevin's work-requirement plan for some Medicaid recipients, Beshear joined the chorus of criticism against the Republican former governor for a pardon-granting binge on his way out the door.

“We are still wading through the volume of documentation on those pardons," Beshear said while fielding questions from reporters about Bevin's pardons.

Bevin, who lost to Beshear in a close race, has issued more than 400 pardons since the Nov. 5 election, according to the Kentucky Secretary of State's office.

The pardons include one for a convicted killer whose family raised campaign money for the departing GOP governor. Some lawmakers have called on federal and state prosecutors to investigate Bevin's pardons.

Asked to weigh in on whether a criminal probe is needed, Beshear, who was the state's attorney general while Bevin was governor, said prosecutors should be allowed to “determine the next steps."

Bevin responded to the uproar in a series of tweets Friday evening, saying he reviewed hundreds of pages of court transcripts and thousands of letters.

“The myriad statements and suggestions that financial or political considerations played a part in the decision making process are both highly offensive and entirely false,” Bevin wrote on Twitter. He said “armchair critics” are not aware of "facts, evidence, lack of evidence, supporting documents, reasons and unique details" of the cases.

On Monday, Beshear said he hopes future governors will “display the type of judgment that prevents us from seeing what we have seen."

The new governor vowed to do his part.

“You will not see these type of actions out of me," he told reporters. “What you will also get is an explanation of the reasons behind any of the pardons that we ultimately give, because there needs to be transparency in this process."

Beshear said one case in particular “greatly concerns" him because of his own involvement in bringing the defendants to justice.

Dayton Jones of Hopkinsville, whose 15-year sentence was commuted by Bevin to time served, was one of four men convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old at a party in 2014, according to media reports. Beshear, whose office prosecuted the case, on Monday called the crime a “gang rape.”

“That was an awful, awful crime," he said.

Beshear also pledged that while he's in office, “there will never be a pardon that is made because of a political donation."

Some lawmakers have said special attention should be given to the pardon issued to Patrick Brian Baker, who was sentenced to 19 years on convictions of reckless homicide and other crimes in a fatal 2014 Knox County home break-in. Prosecutors say Baker and another man posed as police to gain entry to Donald Mills' home and Mills was shot in front of his wife. She drove him to the hospital but he died on arrival.

Baker's family raised $21,500 at a political fundraiser last year for Bevin and Baker's brother and sister-in-law also gave $4,000 to Bevin’s campaign on the day of the fundraiser, the Courier Journal reported. Bevin wrote in the pardoning document that Baker's “drug addictions” led him to fall in with the wrong people and the evidence against Baker was “sketchy at best.”

But the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld Baker's conviction a year ago, writing in a unanimous ruling that "there can be no doubt, on review of the proof as a whole, evidence of Baker’s guilt was overwhelming.”

Baker's two accomplices remain in prison.