Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin defends controversial pardons, blames outrage on 'political opportunism'
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A defiant Matt Bevin says he would welcome a federal investigation into the controversial last-minute pardons and commutations he issued before leaving the governor’s office last week, adding he is convinced that some he pardoned of crimes, including brutal murder, rape and child abuse, are innocent.
“This is going to be very cathartic,” Bevin told The Louisville (Ky.) Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network.
“There’s nothing more antiseptic than the truth. And the truth is something that needs to be shined into some corners of the criminal justice system, in this state and in this country.”
Bevin even suggested that some of the county prosecutors who are the fiercest critics of his pardons may end up as the ones investigated and prosecuted if federal investigators get involved.
“You will see people subpoenaed, you will see people deposed, you will see people convicted,” he predicted during the Saturday night interview.
On Twitter: Ex-Gov. Matt Bevin defends flurry of pardons as Kentucky lawmakers call for investigation
“If the truth comes out, there will be people involved in this process on the other side of the equation that have very good reason to be very concerned right now. And some of them are the loudest people right now, and for good reason.”
Squarely in Bevin’s sights are state legislators and prosecutors — including Republican Senate President Robert Stivers — who have called on commonwealth and federal law enforcement to investigate some of his more controversial pardons and commutations.
In his interview with The Courier Journal, the one-term Republican governor insinuated his critics are grandstanding for political gain.
“There’s a boatload of legislators who are all outraged right now who sure advocated the crap out of me for the last four years, including some of the loudest ones,” Bevin said. “Political opportunism is an interesting thing.”
The Courier Journal was the first to reveal one of Bevin’s most controversial decisions: Pardoning Patrick Baker two years into his 19-year sentence for killing Donald Mills in a Knox County home invasion and robbery.
Pardoning Patrick Baker: Kentucky governor pardons convicted killer whose brother hosted campaign fundraiser for him
In the weekend interview, Bevin initially claimed several times that he didn’t know and couldn’t remember ever meeting with or speaking to Patrick Baker’s brother, Eric, who held a campaign fundraiser for Bevin at his home last year that raised $21,500, state public records show.
The Courier Journal last week reported on Bevin’s attendance at the July 26, 2018, fundraiser — including publishing a photo of Bevin and Eric Baker talking at Baker’s home. The story included a firsthand account from the publisher of the local newspaper of Bevin having a private meeting with the Baker family.
Asked about the fundraiser again, the former governor then conceded he had spoken to Eric Baker before, “But I don’t know if I’ve spoken to him about this.”
Bevin added that he could not remember ever being at the Bakers’ home.
The former governor also insisted Baker is an innocent man — despite the outcry over Patrick Baker’s pardon from Mills’ family, the local prosecutor in the case and those questioning if the political donations played a role.
The real killer, Bevin said, hasn’t been fully brought to justice.
“I looked at (the Patrick Baker case) for months and months,” said Bevin, adding he had “a lot of conversations” with people about the circumstances of Mills’ murder and Baker’s trial.
“If you truly care about the truth of that story, among others, stay with it, stay on it, ask a lot of questions,” Bevin said. “You’ll find a lot of people both inside and outside of Kentucky are very aware of that case.”
Matt Bevin on Micah Schoettle pardon: ‘Not everything that you are told is true’
Bevin also defended his pardon of Micah Schoettle, who was convicted of raping a 9-year-old in Kenton County last year and sentenced to 23 years.
Bevin claimed Schoettle is innocent because there is no physical, medical or eyewitness evidence against him, adding that “not everything that you are told is true, including in a courtroom.”
“Go sit down, talk to (Schoettle), talk to the other people involved, talk to the mother of the daughter, who was involved in the accusation,” Bevin said. “You dig into that thing and find out what did or didn’t happen.”
The mother of the victim in the Schoettle case recounted to the New York Times her outrage when learning about the pardon, saying her family had only recently begun to recover from the trial and “it scares me to think that he knows he got away with it.”
Bevin’s pardon order for Schoettle stated the case “was investigated and prosecuted in a manner that was sloppy at best.”
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers condemns pardon decisions
Shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday called Bevin’s pardons “completely inappropriate,” Stivers, the Republican president of the state Senate, called for a federal investigation of Bevin’s pardons.
“From what we know of former Gov. Bevin’s extreme pardons and commutations, the Senate Republican Majority condemns his actions as a travesty and perversion of justice,” Stivers said in a press release. “Our citizens, and especially the crime victims and their families, deserve better.”
Asked about the comments from McConnell and Stivers, Bevin said his two Republican critics did not provide any specifics about what wrongdoing he was guilty of, adding that such “broad categorizations make for good press releases, make for good tabloid fodder.”
“People like that, they’ll never give you specifics,” Bevin said. “He’ll express outrage, but over what? Specifically, what is the outrage based on?”
Asked about Bevin’s comments, Stivers on Sunday stood by his concerns and call for a federal investigation, particularly into the circumstances surrounding the pardon of Patrick Baker.
“It has an appearance that calls for individuals to look into the case,” said Stivers, citing the overwhelming evidence in the case, “the photos you’ve seen” of Bevin and Patrick Baker’s brother at the campaign fundraiser and “the inconsistencies in the pardons of one but not all three,” as two accomplices in the crime are still in jail.
Matt Bevin expresses ‘absolute confidence’ in people he pardoned
In the Courier Journal interview, Bevin said he alone went through all of the pardon and commutation applications and made the determinations of who was worthy of one, writing all of the orders himself.
He added he would also ask for feedback on certain cases from public advocates and officials in the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
The former governor said he would listen to cases for pardons made by anyone, including legislators, people on this team and “people who might come up to me at a Lincoln Day dinner and say, ‘Hey, you know, what about this, that or the other person.'”
“I’ll listen to anybody,” Bevin said. “Believe me, I talked to people out the wazoo. I’ll take anyone’s opinion on something.”
Bevin also said he had “absolute confidence” that everyone he pardoned would not have a serious future run-in with the law.
“I can’t predict the future, but … I’m as confident about these folks as I am about you or me or somebody that passes me on the street next,” he said.
Follow Joe Sonka on Twitter at @joesonka.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Matt Bevin: Former Kentucky governor defends pardons in interview
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