Person of interest in police killings had life sentence commuted


by JIM FORMAN and ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News and Associated Press

Posted on November 29, 2009 at 7:57 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 30 at 7:13 AM

SEATTLE – The man police are seeking as a person of interest in the shooting deaths of four Lakewood, Wash. police officers was supposed to be spending the rest of his life in an Arkansas prison.

But, Maurice Clemmons, 37, who has a criminal history complete with violent, psychotic outbursts, was set free by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Killed Sunday morning in what detectives call an "ambush" at a coffee shop were Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards 42.

In 1989, Clemmons, then 17, was convicted in Little Rock for aggravated robbery. He was paroled in 2000 after Huckabee commuted Clemmons' 95-year prison sentence. Huckabee, who was criticized during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 for the number of clemencies and commutations he granted, cited Clemmons' age at the time of the sentence.

"Back then, Gov. Huckabee granted clemency to a disturbing number of people, including a man named Maurice Clemmons who should have never been left out," said Larry Jegley, prosecuting attorney for Arkansas' Pulaski County.

After his release from prison, Clemmons violated his parole and was returned to prison in July 2001. He was released March 18, 2004, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.

By all accounts, Clemmons left Arkansas and came to Western Washington. By last summer, it appears his life was spiraling into a tail spin. A home he owned in Parkland was torched by illegal fireworks. He talked about that with KING 5's Linda Brill.

"Look what happened. I lost the home," said Clemmons.

Now, Clemmons is a suspect. He's facing charges in Pierce County for child rape, assaulting several deputies and malicious mischief. Court papers refer to him as saying he was the messiah and that he could fly. A relative said "Maurice is not in his right mind."

In Clemmons' neighborhood, people say he appears paranoid with up to a dozen surveillance cameras set up around his house. At the same time neighbors say police were routinely watching him.

"When I pull up, there will be undercover cops sitting all the time," said one neighbor.

One day earlier this year, neighbors tell us Clemmons went, in their words, berserk - attacking a neighbor who is also a retired police, officer with a rock during a bizarre rampage. 

"Went around smashing windows, car windows, just throwing rocks," said another neighbor. "police were called and they had to chase him to arrest him."

Clemmons was released from prison six days ago on bond, even though there is a warrant for his arrest after escaping from parole in Arkansas.

"I hope my worst fears aren't realized and we have four police officers dead at the hands of another person who should have been left alone," said Jegley.

Huckabee released this statement in response to the killings.

"The senseless and savage execution of police officers in Washington State has saddened the nation, and early reports indicate that a person of interest is a repeat offender who once lived in Arkansas and was wanted on outstanding warrants here and Washington State. The murder of any individual is a profound tragedy, but the murder of a police officer is the worst of all murders in that it is an assault on every citizen and the laws we live within.

Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State. He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990. This commutation making him parole eligible and was paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time. He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him. It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state. This is a horrible and tragic event and if found and convicted the offender should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Our thoughts and prayers are and should be with the families of those honorable, brave, and heroic police officers."