Kentucky governor pardons state’s worst offenders

Kentucky governor pardons state’s worst offenders

In his last days in office, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin pardoned some of Kentucky’s worst murderers. Among those he released from prison was a convicted killer whose brother was a big campaign donor. Such pardons will incite more crimes because studies show that harsh penalties deter and prevent crime, especially murder.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports:

The family of a man pardoned by Gov. Matt Bevin for a homicide and other crimes in a fatal 2014 Knox County home invasion raised $21,500 at a political fundraiser last year.

[This] was one of 428 pardons and commutations Bevin issued since his narrow loss in November…The beneficiaries include one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner and a third who killed his parents.

Judge David Williams sentenced the Bevin campaign donor’s brother for homicide in 2017. He said that in 30 years of practicing law and being a judge, he’d “never seen a more compelling or complete case … The evidence was just overwhelming.”

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Bevin also pardoned Micah Schoettle, who was convicted last year of raping a 9-year-old child and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Bevin pardoned Kathy Harless, who was convicted of murder in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison after she gave birth in an outhouse and threw the baby in a cesspool. Bevin wrote that she had “paid enough for the death of her newborn son.”

And he pardoned Blake Walker, who was convicted in 2003 of killing his parents, Barbara Peterson and Brian Walker. He was 16 at the time. Bevin wrote that Walker, now 33, is “blessed by a loving and forgiving family and it is this alone that tips the delicate balance in the direction of his request.”

Bevin pardoned murderer Irvin Edge, but gave no reason whatsoever for doing so. Edge was convicted of murder and solicitation to murder for hiring a hit man to kill his business partner in 1991.

He pardoned triple murderer Leif Halvorsen, who was sentenced to death for the murder of three people — Jacqueline Green, Joe Norman, and Joey Durham. Bevin’s pardon stated only that “Leif has a powerful voice that needs to be heard by more people.”

He also pardoned Kurt Robert Smith, who was convicted of murdering his 6-week-old baby, Blake, whose brain was so swollen that his skull bones were pushed apart. Smith was 17 at the time.

And he pardoned Daniel Scott Grubb, who killed a friend with a cinder block in 2010, and Michael Hardy, who was convicted in 2014 of a “wanton murder.”

Bevin was one of the wave of grifters and crackpots who attached themselves to the “Tea Party” to try to get elected. Many of these candidates cost the GOP seats it otherwise would have won, such as Christine O’Donnell. She defeated popular incumbent Republican Congressman Mike Castle in the 2010 Delaware Senate GOP primary. Then she went on to lose the general election in a landslide after running a TV commercial in which she proclaimed, “I’m not a witch.”

Bevin, a Republican, made enemies in his own party at every opportunity and was a chronic liability for his party. He first ran unsuccessfully against conservative Sen. Mitch McConnell in the 2014 Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Then Bevin ran for governor in 2015. After winning the GOP primary over the conservative agriculture commissioner by just 83 votes, he went on to win the general election by a narrower margin than is typical for GOP candidates in statewide races in Kentucky. He then vetoed major legislation passed by the GOP-controlled legislature designed to prevent budget deficits and attract business investment.

Bevin was an unusually weak candidate for the GOP in Kentucky. The GOP holds most statewide offices in Kentucky, but not the governor’s office, thanks to Bevin. Although Kentucky is strongly GOP leaning in national elections, Bevin managed to lose the 2019 governor’s election to a Democrat, even though Republicans won other statewide races on the ballot.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at


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