NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Gov. Lamar Alexander said yesterday he will try to delay the release of 17 convicts--recipients of last-minute grants of clemency from outgoing Gov. Ray Blanton--as a federal grand jury continues to investigate charges that Blanton misused his power to pardon.
Alexander said he does not believe he has the power to reverse the 52 pardons and sentence commutations that Blanton granted in the last two days of his term. He added, however, that he is holding up the prisoners' release until he can study their cases.
Alexander took the oath of office Wednesday, three days ahead of schedule, in a hastily-arranged ceremony that was kept secret from Blanton until it was already underway. Alexander said he took office early to prevent Blanton from releasing any more prisoners.
Blanton, a Democrat, signed three pardons and 49 sentence commutations Monday night. Among those receiving clemency were 24 convicted murderers.
Thirteen of the prisoners were released before Alexander took office, while 22 more--who only had their sentences reduced--still have time to serve. Alexander, a Republican, issued an executive order Wednesday barring the release of the remaining 17 until he and Fred Thompson, former minority counsel to the Senate Watergate committee, review each case.
He did not indicate how long the review will take.
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Meanwhile, the federal grand jury investigating Blanton's alleged misuse of his pardoning power announced that it has subpoenaed Murrel Pitts, Blanton's lawyer, and O.H. "Shorty" Freeland, the former governor's executive assistant, to testify this week.
The federal investigation followed the arrest last year of two Blanton aides, who later resigned, and a state trooper, on charges of accepting money in return for arranging grants of clemency.
Blanton has previously stated that federal attorneys have told him he is a key figure in their investigation.
Alexander said he considered the possibility of revoking the pardons, but has since concluded he does not have the authority to do so.
"It will be my guess that any properly validated documents signed by the governor before I took office will be valid," he said. "I don't know of any power the governor has to revoke these."