Gov. Haley Barbour and Mississippi's legislators have several opportunities this session to provide measures of justice to its citizens.
Legislators wrote House Bill 2 in response to the governor and the parole board releasing convicted murderers back into the community with little to no accountability. Barbour, like previous Mississippi governors, provided relief in the form of pardons or suspended sentences to several murderers who were lucky enough to work in the governor's mansion as trustys. Four of the five killers he released last year were domestic murderers. Then, last month, the Mississippi parole board granted parole to a man convicted of capital murder after he brutally raped and killed a pregnant Ole Miss student.
The bill will provide a measure of accountability to the communities, families and friends of the victims prior to release of these criminals. The Senate is currently holding HB 2 on a motion to reconsider.
The second opportunity is through a bill that would require the state to preserve physical evidence and make it available for additional DNA testing, which has become the No. 1 method to support claims of innocence by people accused or convicted of crimes like rape. Through the work of the Innocence Project and other post-conviction advocates, DNA evidence has proven more than 192 men innocent of their crimes in the U.S., and they are no longer behind bars. Mississippi exonerated Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks last year after DNA evidence proved another man had committed the crimes they were in prison for. Brewer spent years on death row, but the two men spent a combined 34 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit. It was only through a clerk's good sense that she preserved the evidence. The Senate sent the bill, SB 2709, to the governor for his signature on Monday.
The third piece of legislation is HB 621, which will provide compensation to those who are wrongly convicted and subsequently exonerated. As the bill states: "Innocent persons who have been wrongfully convicted of felony crimes and subsequently imprisoned have been uniquely victimized, have distinct problems reentering society, and should be compensated. In light of the particular and substantial horror of being imprisoned for a crime one did not commit," the Legislature proposes that those wrongly convicted should be able to get something more than a pat on the back when the state releases them. The amount proposed in the bill is $50,000 for each year of incarceration, to a maximum of $500,000. HB 621 is currently in the Senate after passing in the House.
These bills take steps to correct and rebalance justice in the state of Mississippi for crime victims and those whom the state has wrongly victimized. We urge legislators and the governor to put aside politics and do the right thing. Make these pieces of legislation law in the Magnolia State.