The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles has refused requests from the Georgia Sheriffs Association and the Dawson County Board of Commissioners for details of why it granted clemency to convicted killer Tommy Waldrip.
A two-sentence form letter was sent to both organizations Aug. 18.
This letter comes on behalf of the Board regarding the request of the Georgia Sheriffs Association to declassify all records pertaining to the Boards clemency appointment for Tommy Lee Waldrip. After thorough and careful consideration of the request, the Board has decided not to declassify those materials, the letter states.
Both letters were signed by LaQuandra L. Smith, director of legal services, with copies going to board members.
Sheriff Wiley Griffin, president of the sheriffs association was contacted for comment.
I think its bad for a state agency to not divulge information, he said. They need to rethink their position. The killing of a witness destroys our judicial system We need a fair and impartial pardons and parole board, and Im not saying theyre not, but I have no way to prove that. They are hiding the information they gathered to make an informed decision, but I have no way to believe them.
After 20 years on Gerogias death row, Waldrip was scheduled to die by lethal injection July 10 for his role in the beating and shooting death of 23-year-old Dawson County resident Keith Evans. The pardons and parole board on July 9 deliberated less than two hours before reaching its decision.
Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle, who worked the Evans case in 1997, said he was not surprised by they parole boards decision.
It is disappointing to hear that they will not release the information, he said, but it is not surprising.
Mike Berg, chair of the Dawson County Board of Commissioners, said board members need to be held accountable.
That response by the parole board just shows there is no government by the people, Berg said. There needs to be some elected connection.
Sheriff Griffin agrees.
I am for an elected official making these decisions, he said, rather than an appointed one. I believe an elected official will make a better decision. An elected official can be held accountable.
And while the pardons board may vote to declassify information, it has also refused requests from the Dawson News & Advertiser to do so.
House Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), who served 18 years in law enforcement, said the pardons board shouldnt hide behind a Georgia law that allows it to keep secrets.
The board needs to state in writing, what factors they found that would justify striking 23 years of hard work by deputies, investigators, the district attorney, and numerous courts, Tanner said.
Last week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution launched a three-part investigative series into the pardons and paroles boards actions in restoring the gun rights of convicted felons -- in some cases violent offenders -- without providing an explanation or information to the public or the victims.
According to the AJC report, With no scrutiny, the board restored gun rights to record numbers of offenders: 666 in 2013, 10 times more than in 2008 During the same time period, the proportion of violent offenders among the pardon recipients spiked from 6 percent to 31 percent. Those offenders included murderers, rapists and child molesters, among others.
Language in a 71-year-old Georgia law makes it a misdemeanor for any member of the pardons and paroles board to release information.
That language dates to the boards creations in 1943, which followed what was suspected to be pardons-for-cash schemes involving two governors, writes the AJCs Alan Judd. Over the past 70 years, the board has turned that language into an almost absolute exception to the states open records and open meetings statutes.