Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate controversial pardons former Gov. Matt Bevin issued shortly before he left office last month.
In a Dec. 30 letter to two Democratic Kentucky lawmakers, the Republican attorney general said he has sent “a formal request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to investigate this matter.”
“As you may know, the Office of the Attorney General has a successful partnership with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies through a public corruption task force, and I have told the FBI that my office is willing to assist in any way that it needs.”
At least one person convicted in Letcher County received a commutation of her sentence from Bevin. Kathy Walters Williams was convicted in Letcher Circuit Court in April 2005 for the murder of Forrester Caudill, 19, on Nov. 30, 2003, at Jeremiah. Williams was sentenced in May 2005, and was not supposed to be eligible for consideration for parole until late 2023. She was released from prison on Bevin’s last day in office.
Cameron had been asked by Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey of Louisville and Rep. Chris Harris of Pike County to appoint a special prosecutor or bipartisan special prosecuting team to investigate the pardons issued by Bevin, a Republican.
He sent a letter to them informing them of his action. The two lawmakers released the letter Thursday and said they appreciated Cameron’s move.
The FBI could not be immediately reached for comment.
Edison G. Banks said neither he nor the victim’s family was notified of the Williams commutation, and he said he believes Cameron is right in asking the FBI to step in.
“I think it was a very sound decision. He had no choice but to ask for federal investigation under circumstances. It will allow the investigation to be above reproach as even with their critics most agree the FBI is the best at their job,” Banks said. “Unfortunately because it is a federal investigation it has certain draw backs (no one knows what the investigators are doing or how long their investigation will take) versus perhaps a more transparent investigation created by dumping a hot potato into the Attorney General’s Office within his first month into office with far less resources than the federal government to work with.”
Cameron, who took office last month, said in his letter that he discussed the pardons with several law enforcement partners.
He said Kentucky’s constitution gives the governor the power to pardon a person convicted of a crime but “the pardon power should be used sparingly and only after great deliberation with due concern for public safety.”
“As the chief law enforcement officer for the commonwealth, I am committed to providing a voice for the voiceless, to fighting on behalf of our law enforcement community and to serving Kentuckians,” he wrote. “I am also committed to working with federal, state and local partners.”
Cameron had no additional comment, said Krista Locke, his deputy communications director.
Harris said January 2 that McGarvey and he asked Cameron to appoint an independent special prosecutor “to take off the table the fact that some of the attorneys who worked for Bevin now work for the attorney general.”
“I think the attorney general definitely has done the right thing in going to the FBI. That should be nonpartisan,” said Harris. “I really hope nothing wrong is found, but the public really needs to know what happened.”
Harris also said he has talked to an investigator about the pardons but declined to identify the person and agency.
The two lawmakers told Cameron special attention should be given to a pardon Bevin granted to Patrick Brian Baker, who was convicted of reckless homicide, robbery, impersonating a peace officer and tampering with evidence and sentenced to 19 years in prison for breaking into a Knox County home in 2014 and killing a man in front of his family.
At the time of Bevin’s pardon, Baker was incarcerated and had served only two years of the sentence.
The prosecutor in the case expressed concern that Bevin’s action was taken because the Baker family gave political funds to Bevin and hosted a fundraiser which the former governor attended.
Bevin, who has received national criticism for some of the hundreds of pardons and commutations he issued in the final days of his administration, has said he has done nothing wrong.
In addition to the lawmakers, several prosecutors in the state have called for an investigation of Bevin’s pardons.
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, last month also called on the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate.
Russell Coleman, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said earlier this week that his office would review whether any of the individuals pardoned by Bevin could be prosecuted under federal law. He said he was particularly concerned about the risk to the public of convicted sex offenders who were pardoned.
Bevin pardoned Micah Schoettle after he was convicted last year and sentenced to 23 years in prison for raping a 9-year-old girl in Kenton County. Bevin called the investigation “sloppy” and said the rape could not have occurred because the girl’s hymen was not broken. Medical experts disputed Bevin’s claim.
This story was compiled from Associated Press and Mountain Eagle reports.