Quick Takes

Citing a Bevin commutation, Republican lawmaker wants to limit Kentucky governor’s pardon powers

By: - January 24, 2024 4:56 pm

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would prohibit lame duck governors from issuing pardons or commutations. (LRC Public Information)

FRANKFORT — A Kentucky Republican lawmaker wants to limit pardoning and sentence commuting powers for Kentucky governors after learning a convicted murderer and rapist is now up for parole after outgoing Republican Gov. Matt Bevin commuted his death sentence.  

Sen. Chris McDaniel, of Ryland Heights, is proposing a constitutional amendment that would suspend the governor’s power to issue pardons or sentence commutations from 30 days before a gubernatorial election until the fifth Tuesday after an election, the day of the gubernatorial inauguration. He filed the legislation, Senate Bill 126, on Tuesday. 

McDaniel said he filed the legislation after reading a recent Cincinnati Enquirer story about a man who has a parole hearing this month and previously had his sentence commuted by Bevin. Gregory Wilson was convicted of abduction, rape, robbery and murder before being sentenced to death — until Bevin’s commutation. 

McDaniel also spoke of Wilson, and the Covington woman he was convicted of abducting in 1987, Deborah Pooley, on the Senate floor Wednesday. He told the Kentucky Lantern Tuesday the bill would increase accountability for governors facing election. 

In 2019, after losing the election to now Gov. Andy Beshear, Bevin issued a flurry of pardons to people convicted of crimes including rape, murder and child abuse.

McDaniel said Bevin was no longer accountable to voters when he made the decisions. “You can’t do those things if you aren’t accountable to voters,” McDaniel said. “Voter accountability is critical. And the power of pardons circumvents the justice system at every level, from a frontline police officer to the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and people ought to stand in front of voters and answer for the pardons that they make.” 

Because McDaniel’s legislation would amend the state constitution, voters would have to decide to enact it. He is also proposing another constitutional amendment that would move Kentucky elections for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other constitutional offices to even-numbered years. 

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.