By Sam Stein
In the months, weeks, and even days prior to the parole board hearing for Wayne Dumond, then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee faced tremendous pressure to secure the convicted rapists' release from jail, individuals with direct knowledge of the case tell the Huffington Post.
Politically, there existed a fervent movement that believed Dumond was the victim of a Bill Clinton vendetta, carried out by the state's Democratic political machine. That movement, which had helped Huckabee ascend to power just months earlier in 1996, ramped up pressure on the newly elected governor to rectify a wrong.
Huckabee himself was either friends with or associated to several of the key activists who publicly criticized Dumond's arrest. And Huckabee's particular religious background made him disposed to believing that Dumond -- who would go on to rape and murder another woman upon his release -- was either innocent of his crimes or had been rehabilitated in prison.
Those close to the case say that in the end, it was a combination of these factors that compelled Huckabee to ignore evidence, forgo advice, and ultimately press the parole board for the release of Wayne Dumond. A governor with more experience and will power, and less susceptibility to outside influences, they say, would have handled the case much differently.
"Huckabee saw East Arkansas County [where Dumond was arrested] as a Democratic political machine and probably assumed the worst," Jay Barth, a political science professor at Arkansas' Hendrix College and an authority on state politics, told the Huffington Post. "There were people pushing that story and Huckabee was clearly susceptible to it. But he also had this basic notion that people can be taken care of through the system... You have to recognize what an immature - in terms of time - governor, Huckabee was at that point. I don't know if the Mike Huckabee of four years later would have been susceptible to these forces."
Pressure for the release of Dumond from jail began long before Huckabee became governor. For nearly a decade, conservative activists in Arkansas had painted Dumond as a tragic victim of Bill Clinton's power-hungry machinations. Ashley Stevens, Dumond's rape victim, was Clinton's distant cousin. Within Republican circles, the logic was that if they were to regain political power, it would be through lashing out against rulings like Dumond's.
"Clinton was a maddening figure for the Republicans to work against," Hal Bass, professor of political science at Arkansas' Ouachita Baptist University, told the Huffington Post. "He had an effective personal organization. And this idea of a Clinton machine -- which wasn't there -- became a convenient scapegoat... Huckabee found in the early 90s that campaigning against the Democratic 'machine' and Clinton was a great way to booster his electoral prospects."
Huckabee was privy to this kind of blame-Clinton thinking. As Lieutenant Governor, he had several personal meetings with Dumond's wife, Dusty, in which she lobbied on her husband's behalf. Huckabee's spokesman at the time, Rex Nelson, acknowledged that a case file on Dumond was developed from these exchanges.
Dusty herself came with some leverage. After moving to Texas following her husband's arrest, she befriended and worked for a lawyer named Mike Riddle. Riddle was and remains a political player, and he and his wife clearly took to the Dumond case. In October 1991, when Bill Clinton went to campaign in Houston, Debbie Riddle approached him in public, questioned his judgment, and demanded Dumond's release.
As she recalled in the pages of the Village Voice: I said, "There is a man in your home state, incarcerated, and you put together a pardon committee to look and said you would respond according to their findings. And you didn't. And the young woman allegedly assaulted is related to you."
Dusty and the Riddles were not alone. Several influential media figures in Arkansas had latched unto the Dumond case and saw, in Huckabee, a politician who could advance their cause. Reverend Jay Cole, a Baptist minister and radio personality who had been blaming Clinton for Dumond's travails for nearly a decade, described Huckabee as a friend; and according to a July 8, 2001, article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said that on several occasions Huckabee declared that DuMond was innocent.
Steve Dunleavy, a close friend and writer for Rupert Murdoch (a vociferous Clinton critic) also grew obsessed with Dumond's innocence, often to the point that it clouded his reporting. In a September 21, 1999, Dunleavy wrote in the New York Post that Dumond's wife Dusty had died and would not be able to greet him when he was paroled from jail. In a column five months later, Dunleavy wrote of Dumond's recent release, "[he] was greeted by his wife, Dusty, who I knew really well." Dunleavy was, according to several sources, one of the few reporters to whom Huckabee granted Dumond-related interviews.
"The press didn't cover itself in glory. From their coverage you could conclude that Dumond was innocent," Fletcher Long, the lawyer for Ashley Stevens, Dumond's 1985 rape victim, told the Huffington Post. "What was missing from the reporting was that the case was overwhelming. But it made good news to print that this man was innocent and kept in jail... Huckabee's problem was in believing what he read in the newspaper and listening to other people who read those newspapers."
But in the end it was a deep-seated belief that Bill Clinton was in the wrong and that Dumond, in fact, was the victim, around which all of these forces coalesced.
Indeed, just one year before Huckabee ascended to the governor's chair, another criminal case became a vehicle for Clinton hatred. In 1995, a woman named Sharlene Wilson was convicted of several counts of criminal drug possession. She became a cause celebre for conservatives who theorized that Wilson had damaging information on Clinton and his brother Roger's supposed drug use (among other nefarious activities) and was set up and put in jail because of it.
"I think the hatred to Clinton played a big role in Huckabee's decision [to push for Dumond's parole]," said a prominent legal figure in the state, who asked to remain anonymous. "If there wasn't a connection to Clinton he wouldn't have been involved and there must have been something deeply affecting him that would have caused him to go to the parole board and lobby for this."
And yet, if disdain for Clinton, lobbying pressures, and a strong religious belief in rehabilitation persuaded Huckabee that Dumond's should be removed from jail, there was an abundance of warning signs that suggested otherwise.
In October 1996, Huckabee solicited the advise of local doctors to determine whether Dumond, whose testicles had been cut off before his arrest (perhaps by himself), could rape again. His office refused to reveal the findings. But the Memphis Commercial Appeal interviewed one national expert on castration who said that a man in Dumond's condition did indeed pose a sexual danger.
As reported by Murray Waas for the Huffington Post, Huckabee was also sent letters from Dumond's previous victims, as well as the victim's family members, detailing harrowing accounts of rapes and violence.
Huckabee didn't even have to open the mail. According to Fletcher Long, Ashley Stevens attorney, five hundred feet from the governor's office was a transcript of the Stevens' case, within which was printed Dumond's lengthy rap sheet.
"From what I understand," Long told the Huffington Post, "he never bothered to look at it."
Huckabee's campaign did not return requests for comment. He has said there was no way anyone could have predicted Dumond's violent behavior upon release.
When Huckabee first announced his intention to commute Dumond's sentence in September 1996, he did so without consulting Stevens and her family. Nor, for that matter, did he solicit the advice of Dumond's former attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr., who had been fired by his client years earlier but nevertheless had firsthand knowledge about Dumond's disposition. When Huckabee's predecessor, Jim Guy Tucker, was considering commutation, he and Hall Jr. had a two-and-a-half hour meeting to discuss its merits.
With Huckabee, Hall Jr. says, "I never talked with the governor. In fact, I can't recall ever meeting him."
Huckabee did eventually meet with Stevens and her attorney after his decision to pursue commutation provoked a public backlash. But even then, Long noted, "It was pretty obvious to me that we weren't being heard or listened to but his mind was already made up."
The individuals who served on Arkansas' parole board recounted a similar Huckabee mindset. And Butch Reeves, the governor's top aide, told the Huffington Post on Wednesday that, contrary to his now former boss's claims, Huckabee lobbied the parole board to reverse its previous rejection. Huckabee has said that in supporting Dumond's parole he was merely following the judgment of the board. But just one month earlier the board had voted 4-to-1 against Dumond's parole
By that point in time, those who have followed the case claim, Huckabee was convinced both of Dumond's rehabilitation in prison and of his victimhood at the hands of the Clinton machine. Throughout the case, they claim, Huckabee exhibited poor judgment and a lack of political skill.
"The whole deal about the Dumond case, and it can be overanalyzed, was that this was a bad guy with a proven record of sexual misconduct and violence. This is the last guy you want to set free," Max Brantly, executive editor of the Arkansas Times and one of the chief chroniclers of the Dumond case, told the Huffington Post. "And Huckabee formed the judgment to do this not after consulting anyone but after being sold a story and buying it. It's kind of like Bush and weapons and mass destruction."