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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Gov. Mike Huckabee says the expense of caring for an inmate in poor health justifies commuting Whitewater figure David Hale's 21-day prison sentence on a state insurance conviction.

Hale, a former Arkansas judge, served nearly two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to two Whitewater-related felonies in 1994. He was a key government witness against then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and James and Susan McDougal, who were convicted.

Now 60, Hale has had two heart attacks and uses a pacemaker.

He was sentenced to 21 days in state prison after being convicted in 1999 of lying to state regulators about the solvency of his National Savings Life Insurance Co. He had argued that a deal with Whitewater prosecutors exempted him from state prosecution.

Huckabee announced his plan to commute Hale's state sentence on Monday, starting a 30-day public comment period.

He offered his justification on Tuesday after meeting with Pulaski County prosecutor Larry Jegley, who, along with the state board that reviews clemency requests, objected to offering clemency.

Jegley said it would send a message ``that someone with political influence or family connections could get special treatment.''

Huckabee said he was trying to weigh whether taxpayers would benefit from paying Hale's medical expenses just so he could serve 21 days.

``We're not letting him off. We're letting the taxpayers off,'' Huckabee said. He said his inclination might have been different if the sentence had been longer.

Hale's lawyer, David Bowden, called it ``the humanitarian thing to do.''