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Originally published November 30, 2009 at 9:40 AM | Page modified December 1, 2009 at 7:22 AM

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Suspect released in Arkansas after claiming he had changed

Documents released this morning by the Arkansas Parole Board show police slaying suspect Maurice Clemmons was supposed to remain in prison there until at least 2015, but won his release by claiming he'd changed while behind bars.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Coverage from the days following the Lakewood shootings

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Lakewood Officer Tina Griswold was a 'ball of fire' in a tiny package

A path to murder: The story of Maurice Clemmons

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Officer Gregory Richards was 'the golden boy'

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Clemmons' sister taken into custody in courtroom

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Clemmons traveled to meet New York minister, citing God's instructions

Clemmons' half-brother charged with helping killer elude police

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Law-enforcement officials believe Clemmons has been sheltered by family, friends

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Interactive map and timeline

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Gallery | Maurice Clemmons Killed, Community Mourns Slain Officers

Gallery | Ceda Clemmons' Damaged Home

Monday coverage

Suspect released in Arkansas after claiming he had changed

Gallery | Police search for suspected cop killer

Gallery | Lakewood police officers killed

Video | Community reflects on slain police

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Video | SPD Det. Jeff Kappel speaks about 11-hour standoff

Brenton family statement on slain Lakewood officers

Latest on Lakewood shooting: Police searching near Dr. José Rizal Park

Police still searching for suspected cop killer

Sunday coverage

Police union sets up fund for slain officers

Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee has controversial record of freeing criminals

Lakewood Police Department created just 5 years ago

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Slain officers respected for careers, family life

Lakewood police slayings appear to be worst of their kind in state history

Shocked, grieving community holds vigil for officers

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Maurice Clemmons clemency and parole documents (PDF)

Statement from Mayor Douglas Richardson and City Manager Andrew Neiditz (PDF)

City of Lakewood identifies officers (PDF)

Related links

Law justifying use of deadly force

Facebook page honoring fallen officers

NewsTribune.com | Eyewitness accounts

Video | Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer discusses Lakewood slaying

Documents released this morning by the Arkansas Parole Board show police slaying suspect Maurice Clemmons was supposed to remain in prison there until at least 2015, but won his release by claiming he'd changed while behind bars.

Clemmons' appeal for clemency was granted in May 2000 by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee, who commuted Clemmons sentence and made him immediately eligible for parole.

Clemmons wrote in an appeal to Huckabee that he'd been sent to prison after an extended crime spree that started in 1989 when he was a teenager — and that he was a different person now.

At the time of the crimes — which included aggravated robbery, firearms possession and burglary — Clemmons claimed he was 16 years old and had moved from Seattle to a high-crime neighborhood in Arkansas.

"I succumbed to the peer pressure and the need I had to be accepted by other youth in my new environment and fell in with the wrong crowd and thus began a seven (7) month crime spree which led me to prison," Clemmons wrote in his application to Huckabee.

Clemmons wrote that he came from "a very good Christian family" and "was raised much better than my actions speak (I'm still ashamed to this day for the shame my stupid involvement in these crimes brought to my family name.)"

"Where once stood a young (16) year old misguided fool, who's (sic) own life he was unable to rule. Now stands a 27 year old man, who has learned through 'the school of hard knocks' to appreciate and respect the rights of others. And who has in the midst of the harsh reality of prison life developed the necessary skills to stand along (sic) and not follow a multitude to do evil, as I did as a 16 year old child."

Clemmons added that his mother had recently died without seeing him turn his life around and that he prayed Huckabee would show compassion by releasing him.

The documents indicate Clemmons' release from prison was supported by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Marion Humphrey, who cited Clemmons' age at the time of his crimes and called his sentence excessive. His release was unanimously approved by the parole board, while the Pulaski County prosecutor's office twice objected to parole recommendations for Clemmons.

"For us to prosecute a 17-year-old, and for him to get a 95-year sentence without a homicide — you've got to be a bad little dude to draw that kind of a sentence," said Mark Fraiser, who prosecuted the earlier cases against Clemmons in Pulaski County.

"He had an obvious propensity for future violence," Fraiser said today. "To wake up this morning and turn on the news and hear his name, I can't even imagine the suffering of those families and the suffering of people in those communities."

Humphrey said Monday he remembers Clemmons and believed he was genuinely remorseful and wanted to change.

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"I figure young people make some mistakes," he said. Also a Presbyterian minister, Humphrey said he believes in giving people a second chance.

Humphrey in 2004 also officiated Clemmons' wedding when he married his fiance Nicole Cheryleen Smith, according to a copy of the marriage certificate.

"It would be the furthest thing from my mind that he would go out and kill four police officers, if in fact he did," Humphrey said. "Certainly if that's true, I would much rather that he'd stayed in prison... my heart goes out to the officers' families."

Huckabee also cited Clemmons' young age at the time of his crimes in an official proclamation commuting Clemmons' sentence. The proclamation said Clemmons faced a 95-year sentence but corrections officials in that state said he likely would have served far less than that.

Clemmons was released from prison in August 2000, but was sent back to prison on a parole violation — a robbery charge — in July 2001, according to Dina Tyler, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

He received a 10-year sentence, Tyler said, but records show he was paroled in March 2004. He was to remain on parole until 2021.

Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley said that by his count, Clemmons would have been in jail until 2021, but was released from prison in August 2000.

"Mr. Huckabee made him parole-eligible 21 years before he would have been," he said, "otherwise, he'd be cooling his heels in the Department of Corrections."

Clemmons moved to Washington state while still on parole. He spent the past several months in jail on a child-rape charge but was released last week after posting a $15,000 bond. His release here came despite seven other pending felony charges, according to court records.

Huckabee, a Republican presidential contender in 2008, issued a statement Sunday night mourning the deaths of the four Lakewood police officers and suggesting that if Clemmons is responsible "it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington state."

Huckabee's statement noted that Clemmons' release was approved by the parole board and that prosecutors in Arkansas failed to file additional charges against Clemmons after his parole violation in 2001, which could have extended his time in prison.

Staff reporter Susan Kelleher contributed to this report.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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