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Mississippi judge bars release of inmates pardoned by Barbour

By Robbie Ward

STARKVILLE, Mississippi (Reuters) - A Mississippi judge barred the state Wednesday from releasing prisoners newly pardoned by former Governor Haley Barbour, a conservative Republican who outraged some by granting clemency to more than 200 convicts as he was leaving office.

The judge's order blocked the release of 21 inmates still serving time when their pardons were announced and who remained incarcerated, the injunction said. It also ordered five others who already had been freed to appear for a hearing later in January.

The judge acted hours after Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood had sought the injunction to prevent the early release of clemency recipients, some of whom were convicted of murder, rape and armed robbery.

Among those pardoned were four murderers who had been allowed to work at the governor's mansion doing odd jobs because of good prison behavior.

Barbour's office said a minority of those convicts who received clemency remained behind bars and that 90 percent of them were no longer in prison when the pardons were granted.

"The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote," Barbour said in a statement. "My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 percent of the cases."

Hood, in challenging the pardons issued as Barbour left office after eight years as governor, had told a news conference in Jackson that some of them did not meet the requirements of the state constitution, according to Hood's spokeswoman.

One of those pardoned was the brother of former National Football League quarterback Brett Favre. Earnest Scott Favre was convicted in 1996 of driving while intoxicated after a vehicle he was driving crashed and killed his best friend.

Also included were four men convicted of murder and another convicted of armed robbery, all serving life sentences, who worked at the governor's mansion cleaning vehicles, waiting tables and performing other domestic duties.

During his two terms in office, Barbour often clashed with Hood, the state's only statewide elected Democrat.

Hood said during his news conference that many of the pardoned inmates -- including the five who worked at the governor's mansion -- did not meet the constitutional requirement of having published notice of their request for clemency in local newspapers where the crimes were committed.

The injunction issued on Wednesday by Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green bars the release of more inmates until the Department of Corrections provides documentation of the required notification.

Barbour, a former National Republican Committee chairman, had considered seeking his party's nomination for president in 2012 but said a White House bid would have claimed a decade of his life considering the long campaign followed by up to eight years in office.

(Writing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Steve Gorman and Bill Trott)

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