WLBT-TV reports that Barbour has pardoned 40-year-old David Gatlin and that he was to be released Sunday. Online state records show he was sentenced to life in prison for murder, aggravated assault and burglary convictions. Records show Gatlin served as a trustee inmate at the governor's mansion.
The news station reports Gatlin turned himself in to authorities in 1993 and admitted killing his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis Gatlin, and wounding Randy Walker. The victim's sister, Tiffany Ellis Brewer, said that Gatlin "spent less time in jail than my little sister got to live."
"I don't know if Governor Barbour has kids but if one of his kids were murdered, I would like to think that he would want them to be put in prison until they died or the appropriate time," she told the news station.
House Democratic caucus Leader Bobby Moak said in a statement Sunday evening that the governor's action was "the latest in a long line of irresponsible decisions by a party that claims to stand for law and order."
"I know that people will say that lame duck pardons are a political tradition but this is one tradition that needs to go away," Moak said. "The people of Mississippi and their justice system deserve better. In the past we have tried to limit this authority by allowing law enforcement and victims' families the opportunity to have their voice heard on these decisions that bypass the parole board. It's time to make these changes."
Representatives of the governor's office and the Mississippi Department of Correction did not respond to email and phone messages left Sunday evening. It was unclear if Gatlin had actually been freed.
Barbour leaves office Tuesday.
Many people on the Mississippi coast were angered in 2008 when Barbour suspended the sentence of Michael Graham, who was serving a life sentence for murder in the 1989 death of his ex-wife. Graham had worked at the governor's mansion as a prison worker in a tradition that dates back generations in Mississippi.
The governor's mansion jobs typically go to convicted murderers because they're the ones who have served enough time to gain the trust to do it, prison officials said.
At the time, Barbour said it was also tradition for governors to pardon the inmate workers at the governor's mansion.
Barbour's three predecessors, dating back to 1988, had given some type of early release or pardon to a total of 12 such prisoners, according to prison officials. All but two of them had been convicted of murder. One was serving time for forgery and another for armed robbery and aggravated assault.