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Ariz. Court Rules on Ex-Gov.

February 21, 2002

PHOENIX (AP) _ The state Supreme Court ordered an inmate released after it decided that then-Gov. Fife Symington failed to follow procedures when he denied the man clemency.

Up to 200 inmates were denied clemency under the same law, and their cases will be reviewed to determine if the ruling applies to them, state officials said Wednesday.

The decisions were made under a 1994 law that relaxed mandatory sentences and set up clemency procedures for inmates who were serving harsher sentences than the new law recommended.

The court’s ruling Tuesday involved inmate Kevin McDonald, who was denied clemency in 1995.

The court said the signature on the document is illegible and the aide who signed for Symington is not identified. The governor also failed to properly submit his denial to the secretary of state as an official act by his office, the court said.

Symington denied clemency for up to 200 inmates and approved it for 16 whom the state clemency board had recommended for commutations under the 1994 law.

The former governor criticized the ruling, saying it would ``qualify as farce if the underlying subject were not so serious.″ Symington said his criminal-justice policy aide signed the forms at his direction.

``Any clemency petition granted or denied by me by my office was reviewed by me and every decision was made by me,″ he said in a statement.

How many other inmates must be released because of the ruling is unclear at this point, said Pati Urias, spokeswoman for Attorney General Janet Napolitano.

McDonald was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced in 1990 to life in prison without possibility of parole for 25 years. State law then mandated a life term because he committed the crime while on probation for drug and property offenses.

He will not be released from prison immediately because the state must notify victims before it releases an inmate, said Rhonda Cole, spokeswoman for the state Corrections Department.

Symington, a Republican, left office in September 1997 after being convicted of bank fraud. His convictions were overturned on appeal and he was pardoned by President Clinton in 2001.


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