State Rep. Eric Watson said the family of Harbison’s victim was not notified of the commuted sentence, finding out about it only through third-hand information.
Watson said Harbison was convicted in 1983 in the beating death of an elderly Chattanooga woman who confronted him in the act of burglarizing her home.
“He beat her to death and broke every bone in her body,” Watson said. “He was convicted by a jury of 12 and that conviction has been upheld all the way to the state Supreme Court.”
The ex-governor granted 22 pardons, four commutations, including Harbison, and one exoneration during his last week in office.
According to a press release from Bredesen’s office, none of the actions resulted in the release of any person from prison. It stated the pardons related to cases committed sometime ago and in each case, sentences have been served or probationary periods completed. Sixteen of the pardons were granted at the recommendation of the Board of Probation and Parole. An additional seven pardons concern cases where the BOPP had declined a review because the technical requirements set by the governor had not been met. No pardons were issued against the recommendation of the BOPP.
Watson said, “The parole board works for the governor. Do you think they are going to disagree with him?”
The other three commutations were to make the individuals eligible to be considered for parole in August 2012, according to the former governor’s office. There was one exoneration of an individual in a case in which the alleged victim recanted her testimony and the district attorney dismissed the charges.
“I’ve looked at these cases for a long time,” Bredesen said in the press release. “I believe they represent a responsible and humane exercise of the governor’s power and best serve the interests of fairness and justice.”
Watson asked this morning, “Where is the fairness and justice for the family of the victims? Law enforcement agencies are notified when a sex offender is released into a community, but the families of these victims weren’t even given that courtesy.
“We are talking about violent criminals who don’t care anything about our society. Is Bredesen going to be accountable for them?”
Watson said he has received hundreds of e-mails from citizens across the state who are upset.
“They send them to me because they know I am pro-law enforcement,” he said. Watson, who is a captain in the Bradley County Sheriff’s Department, is also chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
He said Shawnda James’ life sentence in the first-degree murder of her aunt was commuted and will allow her to be eligible for parole in August 2012.
According to Watson, the then 16-year-old James included killing her aunt while she slept in a to-do list written a week before the crime. James was convicted of the offense that took place in Lynnville.
Watson said State Rep. Eddie Bass, who was sheriff in 1995 when the crime was committed, said James had been in trouble before the murder and has been disciplined 17 times in prison for fighting, verbal assault, sexual misconduct and mutilation.
Watson’s legislation would require the governor’s office to notify the attorney general, as well as the district attorney’s conference, who would notify victims’ families.