KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Tuesday that he is "heartbroken" over the pain suffered by the families of two women murdered in Kansas City more than six years ago.
Authorities say the two victims, Carol Shields and Sara Andrasek, were killed by the same man — Wayne DuMond, who was released from an Arkansas prison in 1999, a year before Shields' murder.
Their mothers say Huckabee is responsible, at least in part, for DuMond's release.
"What a fool," said Lois Davidson, Shields' mother. "Thinking he could rule the country when he couldn't even do a good job as governor of Arkansas."
Janet Williams, Andrasek's mother: "Wayne DuMond should have never been on the streets in Missouri. ... When politics are involved, people get hurt, and Sara and Carol Shields paid the ultimate price with their lives."
"I'm deeply sorry for what they've been through," Huckabee said in a telephone interview with The Kansas City Star. "Nothing I can do or say can reduce their level of grief."
But the Republican said he hoped the families — and the public — would fully understand his role in DuMond's controversial release from custody.
"I should be held responsible for the things I did," Huckabee said. "The one thing I didn't do is let him go."
DuMond died in a Missouri prison in 2005, where he was serving time for killing Shields. He was never charged with killing Andrasek, although prosecutors say they have "no doubt" he committed the crime.
Huckabee's connection with Wayne DuMond has been a part of Arkansas politics for more than a decade. Now, as Huckabee climbs in some presidential polls, the DuMond case is getting new scrutiny across the nation.
A jury sent DuMond to prison in 1985 for the rape of 17-year old Ashley Stevens, a distant relative of then-Gov. Bill Clinton. While awaiting trial on the rape charge, DuMond was castrated — some say by assailants, other say he did the job himself.
But his conviction and imprisonment became a rallying point for Clinton critics and some Republicans in Arkansas, who said they believed DuMond was in prison because of the Clinton connection, and that he was actually innocent of the charges.
In 1996, then-Gov. Huckabee joined the discussion, saying he planned to commute DuMond's sentence to time served, in part because evidence in the case was "questionable."
But Huckabee's 1996 commutation announcement set off bitter complaints from some in Arkansas, including Stevens. On Jan.16, 1997, he officially reversed the decision and denied clemency, although he told DuMond in a letter "my desire is that you be released from prison."
That day, the Arkansas Post Prison Transfer Board agreed to release DuMond.
The role Huckabee played in the parole decision is still in dispute. Some parole board members have since said they made the decision without pressure from Huckabee; others, though, said he had talked with them about his desire that DuMond be released.
"He made it obvious that he thought DuMond had gotten a raw deal and wanted us to take another look at it," former board member Charles Chastain said in 2001. "Some board members who were usually very tough about letting people out ... (later) voted in favor of him, and seemed eager to."
Huckabee said Tuesday that claims he had tried to influence the parole board were ludicrous.
He admitted that he considered commuting DuMond's sentence to time served and that he doubted DuMond's guilt in the 1990s. Now, he says, "given what's happened," he believes DuMond was guilty of rape, and regrets DuMond's release.
"Absolutely," Huckabee said. "How could you not? I just feel horrible. No words I have can help the families feel better. . . . I would be angry as well."
But, Huckabee said, he ultimately decided not to commute DuMond's sentence because he wanted the inmate to have supervision if released on parole.
And, Huckabee said, others — including his Democratic predecessor, Jim Guy Tucker, as well as the parole board itself, appointed by Democrats — made decisions that made DuMond's release possible.
Despite the parole decision in 1997, DuMond's actual release was delayed for more than two years because of an unusual condition — DuMond would have to move to another state.
After his release in 1999, DuMond lived briefly in Arkansas before moving to Smithville, Mo., just a few weeks before Carol Shields was murdered.
"They say you're supposed to forgive," Davidson said. "There are two men I'll don't think I'll ever forgive . . . Mr. Huckabee and Wayne DuMond."
Dan White prosecuted DuMond for Shields' murder. A Clay County jury convicted DuMond of the Shields killing in 2003; he was sentenced to life in prison.
Huckabee "as certainly an advocate for the release of Wayne DuMond," White said last week. "I don't think there's any question he shares some responsibility."
Davidson and Williams say they are particularly angry because Huckabee has never called them to apologize or to explain his part in the DuMond case, even though he later told interviewers he "felt horrible" about DuMond's release.
In fact, they say, no one from Arkansas, other than Ashley Stevens, has ever talked to them about DuMond.
"I raised my children, when you commit a wrong, you take responsibility for it," Williams said. "Every birthday, every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, the memories come back. . . . There is no closure."
Both women say their sadness is renewed almost every day, when they see Huckabee on television, campaigning for president.
Would an apology help? Davidson: "I don't know."
Huckabee: "In retrospect, someone should have made some contact. . . . They have every right to feel distraught. I say that with sorrow, respect, and absolute regret for the terrible things they went through."
(DeAnn Smith of McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.