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Hearing on Mississippi pardons delayed until next week

By the CNN Wire Staff
February 2, 2012 -- Updated 0204 GMT (1004 HKT)
Convicted murderer Joseph Ozment is one of more than 200 prisoners pardoned by ex-Mississippi Gov. Hayley Barbour.
Convicted murderer Joseph Ozment is one of more than 200 prisoners pardoned by ex-Mississippi Gov. Hayley Barbour.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Man wounded by convicted murderer disagrees with Barbour
  • The attorney general says "about 170" pardoned inmates should be added to a check-in list
  • A convicted murderer was located recently in Wyoming
  • Mississippi's state Supreme Court will now handle the case

(CNN) -- A bid by Mississippi's attorney general to overturn the pardons of four convicted murderers and other inmates won't be heard this week after all.

The state's Supreme Court on Wednesday accepted jurisdiction in the case and granted a defense motion to cancel Friday's scheduled hearing by a lower judge in Jackson. The high court set a February 9 hearing in the case.

Then-Gov. Haley Barbour issued the pardons last month, sparking anger from authorities and relatives of crime victims.

Attorney General Jim Hood has been particularly outspoken, calling the pardons "a slap in the face to everyone in law enforcement and (saying) Governor Barbour should be ashamed."

The attorney general is questioning the pardons for "failure to sufficiently meet the publication requirements of the Mississippi Constitution," his office said.

As he closed out his second term as governor, Barbour granted "full pardons" -- meaning the convict's record is effectively wiped clean -- to more than 200 people found guilty of a variety of crimes. All four of the convicted murderers he pardoned were serving life sentences and worked as trusties at the governor's mansion. That practice has been discontinued by new Gov. Phil Bryant.

One of the convicted murderers was recently found in Wyoming, according to Hood.

Joseph Ozment was served with papers at a hotel in Laramie, where he had been staying under another name, his office said.

Ozment's whereabouts had been unknown since he was picked up by his mother on January 8 after his release.

"We said we would find him, and we did," said Hood. "Now, we will let the court decide what happens from here."

Late Monday, Hood spoke to CNN's "AC360," slamming the former governor and questioning the motives behind his pardons.

"He ran the office of the governor as if it was Mississippi in the 1950s," said Hood. He said many of the inmates Barbour pardoned came from influential families or had connections to the Republican Party.

Barbour has defended his pardons. On Friday, he appeared on CNN's "John King USA," saying Ozment and the others have been rehabilitated.

His office issued a statement, saying Barbour did not have any input on who served as a trusty at the mansion and he had no prior knowledge of who was being sent.

David Gatlin was one of the four convicted murderers pardoned by Barbour.

In 1993, CNN affiliate WLBT reported, David Gatlin walked into the trailer where his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis Gatlin, lived and shot her in the head as she held her 6-week-old baby in her arms. The woman's friend, Randy Walker, survived a gunshot to the head.

Walker told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday evening that he was shocked when he learned Gatlin became a trusty at the governor's mansion.

"We think if we could have gotten to Haley Barbour ... we think we could have changed the outcome on this," Walker said.

Tammy Gatlin's relatives received a letter from the state parole board last month saying Gatlin was not going to be paroled and would next be considered in October 2012.

Barbour, when speaking about the trusty program, has said he believes in second chances and that men who committed crimes of passion are least likely to repeat their crimes.

"I have no doubt in my mind that these men have repented, have been redeemed, have come back hard-working to prepare themselves to go out in the world. I have no question in my life," he said in an interview last month with Fox News.

Walker told "AC360" that the Gatlin case was not a crime of passion. And he said he was unhappy he had no opportunity to plead his case before Gatlin was released.

A judge last week ruled that there will be no change in conditions set for the four convicted murderers.

The men can remain free but still have to check in with authorities daily, Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green ruled.

After that ruling, Hood told reporters that he anticipated his office will request "about 170 more" names eventually be added to a list of individuals who must check in with authorities and could be ordered back to prison. He said his office has found 22 pardoned convicts "actually met the publication requirements and there are nine that are still under review."

An attorney representing three of the convicted murderers argued the pardons were valid.

CNN's Rich Phillips contributed to this report.

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