Inmate's early release puts focus on Barbour

AP News
Posted: Mar 25, 2011 6:40 PM
Inmate's early release puts focus on Barbour

The early release Friday of a Mississippi man convicted of manslaughter has drawn attention because Gov. Haley Barbour, a possible Republican presidential candidate, had signed an order that gave time off to the man and other prisoners.

The convict was one of 287 inmates who got a few months off prison sentences for helping clean up after hurricanes Katrina and Rita under Barbour's 2006 order.

Joseph Michael Goff, 28, was sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison in a former classmate's death. The Sun Herald newspaper reported on his release Friday and the order's 130-day reduction.

Barbour spokeswoman Laura Hipp says he had nothing to do with most of the time taken off Goff's sentence _ more than eight years. That came from laws allowing reductions for working in prison, going to classes and other activities. The biggest reduction, seven years, came from working in the prison. Those decisions are made by prison officials.

"The Governor did not pardon or release him from prison," Hipp said in an email.

The release angered some on the Mississippi coast, where the crime got significant attention when it happened.

"This is just unbelievable, to give a murderer 130 days off because he cleaned up after a storm, which is what an inmate should be doing anyway," state Sen. Michael Watson, a Republican from Pascagoula, told the Sun Herald. "It's beyond me, to be honest with you. I'm almost at a loss for words.

Goff was a junior at Gautier High at the time of the Dec. 8, 2001 shooting. He was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Kyle Paul Todd. Authorities said the shooting occurred at the Gautier home of Goff's mother and may have stemmed from an argument over a girl the two had dated. Todd was valedictorian of Gautier's 2001 graduating class and was attending Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Hipp said Goff was given early release, which is similar to parole in that he could be sent back to prison to complete the sentence if he breaks the law.

Many people on the Mississippi coast were also angered in 2008 when Barbour suspended the sentence of Michael Graham, who was serving a life sentence for murder in the 1989 death of his ex-wife. Graham had worked at the governor's mansion as a prison worker in a tradition that dates back generations in Mississippi.

The governor's mansion jobs typically go to convicted murderers because they're the ones who have served enough time to gain the trust to do it, prison officials say.

At the time, Barbour said it was also tradition for governors to pardon the inmate workers at the governor's mansion.

Barbour's three predecessors, dating back to 1988, had given some type of early release or pardon to a total of 12 such prisoners, according to prison officials. All but two of them had been convicted of murder. One was serving time for forgery and another for armed robbery and aggravated assault.