4620389Former Arkansas Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who has come under fire for commuting the sentence of suspected cop-killer Maurice Clemmons nine years ago, said at Jacksonville University Wednesday that "the idea that I'm some bleeding heart that lets anyone go is nonsense."
Huckabee, who is believed to be considering another presidential run in 2012, got a supportive welcome from students at the university, according to Jacksonville.com, which reports they "laughed at his jokes" and "applauded him when he said he supported a consumption-based tax system and opposed same-sex marriage."
But questions about Clemmons were very much on the minds of the reporters who questioned Huckabee before he spoke to the students. Back in 2000, the then-Arkansas governor commuted Clemmons' 108-year sentence for theft and other charges. Clemmons had already served 11 years in jail at the time; Huckabee said he made the decision in part because Clemmons was just 16 when he was sentenced. He also suggested the sentence was excessive and that a white teenager would not have received such a long jail term.
Clemmons was eventually released on parole. He was later arrested on other counts, including child rape, but went free when prosecutors failed to file charges against him. He was ultimately killed by police while being sought in connection with the murder of four policemen in Washington.
Conservative commentators have hammered Huckabee for commuting Clemmons – criticism Huckabee has deemed "disgusting."
"It really does show though how sick society has become when we're more interested in the political consequences of an election that's three years away," he said.
Huckabee said Wednesday he wasn't apologizing for his decision in the Clemmons case. He said there were no protests about his court of action, which cut Clemmons' sentence to 47 years, and noted that the parole board is the body that released him.
According to CNN, Huckabee told reporters Wednesday that "You're looking at this nine years later and trying to make something as if I can look in to the future."
"I wish I could have. Good Lord, I wish I had that power. I wish I could have done that. But I don't know how anyone can do it," he added. Huckabee said that "nobody at that point was saying he's a cop killer."
Explaining his decision to grant clemency, Huckabee said he read "every bit" of Clemmons' file.
"And here was a case where a guy had been given 108 years," he said. "Now, if you think a 108-year sentence is an appropriate sentence for a 16-year-old for the crimes he committed, then you should run for governor of Arkansas."
He laid out his argument in full in an article in the conservative Human Events magazine earlier this week.