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Outgoing Gov Sets Free Man Serving Life for Child Sex Abuse

Ky. Gov. Matt Bevin issued pardon for Paul Donel Hurt in case with questionable recantation
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 26, 2019 7:33 AM CST
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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is seen in Frankfort, Ky., on Nov. 13, 2019.   (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

(Newser) – An outgoing governor issued more than a dozen last-minute pardons late last week, but one in particular is raising eyebrows. Per the Courier-Journal, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin put out a pardon and commutation order Friday for Paul Donel Hurt, who was serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2001 of sexually abusing his 6-year-old stepdaughter. Four years ago, the victim in the case recanted her testimony in an evidentiary hearing, and so Bevin notes in his order that "it appears to me, and to many others including the judge who sentenced him, that Paul Donel Hurt has been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for nearly 20 years." The judge he refers to, now-retired Jefferson Circuit Judge Stephen Mershon, was the one involved in the original conviction, but after he stepped down from the bench, he started corresponding with Hurt in prison and became convinced he was innocent.

And that's when things get questionable: Mershon reached out to the victim, and soon thereafter she took back her accusations. Still, both Jefferson Circuit Judge Audra Jean Eckerle and the Kentucky Court of Appeals kept Hurt's conviction intact, with Eckerle noting the victim's "shifting account," which Eckerle believes Mershon may have helped sway via "judicial coercion and intimidation." Mershon, who picked Hurt up from prison after his pardon to take him to his mother's, concedes "this guy could have been playing me" and be "the best con artist in the world," but he genuinely thinks Hurt is innocent. Vox notes Bevin's actions are effectively putting aside the reservations of two separate judges, as well as siding with "an array of powerful social forces" that not only make sexual abuse survivors feel guilty about being abused, but then in reporting it. (Read more Matt Bevin stories.)

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