Gov. Mike Beebe is making news in his final days of the sort likely to knock a few points off his high Arkansas approval ratings by proposing to pardon a sex offender who was a longtime family friend and also pardon his own son, Kyle, convicted of possession of a couple of ounces of marijuana (a felony amount) in 2003.
He’s also being knocked again this week in Utah for the fact that another perennial pardon request from an Arkansas convict being housed in Utah didn’t reach the governor’s office in time for consideration this year. This is Rolf Kaestel, imprisoned since 1981 for robbing a Fort Smith taco stand with a water pistol. He was transferred to Utah in 1999 under a state compact and has been costing Utah $28,00 a year ever since. No clear reason for his transfer has ever been offered, but Kaestel was an agitator and he participated in a documentary film about the Arkansas prisons’ scandalous program of buying plasma from inmates. Tainted blood was sold.
It’s been the subject of continuing reporting in Utah, most recently in the Salt Lake City Weekly. Kelly Duda, the Arkansan who made the documentary, continues to advocate for Kaestel.
“They just want him to die,” Duda says. “Find me another water-gun robbery in Arkansas or Utah that resulted with a life without parole prison term. At a certain point, it just becomes absurd.”
…He says he’s optimistic that Arkansas governor-elect Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, will release Kaestel when the prisoner’s request for clemency glides across his desk.
“What is required is real leadership from the governor’s office on this moral issue,” Duda says. “Rolf Kaestel’s not going away unless they let him out.”
I’m not going to scoff at the notion of a more-compassionate Hutchinson yet. His record includes some advocacy for alternatives to prison for drug offenders and criticism of disparate treatment of users of different forms of cocaine.
Beebe’s own record of pardons — dozens for minor offenders, but few otherwise — was a contrast (and not a good one) to Mike Huckabee. Huckabee took chances on pardons in the name of rehabilitation and forgiveness. For that he deserves credit. For poor judgment and favoring insiders, he deserves the criticism that’s been heaped on him and will be heaped again when he gets in the 2016 presidential race.