In its latest TV ad attacking Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, the conservative super PAC School Freedom Fund falsely claims that Beshear’s decision to release some prisoners early during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed a man convicted of sodomizing a child to “roam free.”
Although the TV ad, which began airing on Sept. 12, claims Beshear “released” James Hamlin “back into the community within a year,” Hamlin was never released, and he is currently serving a 25-year sentence in prison.
“James Hamlin sodomized a young child, only 6 years old,” the narrator in the ad says. “He was arrested and thrown behind bars where he belongs. Until Andy Beshear turned him loose. Released back into the community within a year. What Kentucky child is safe when their governor lets monsters like Hamlin roam free? When Beshear puts deviant predators before innocent kids? It’s not just wrong, it’s unforgivable.”
Lawyers for the Beshear campaign sent a letter to TV stations in Lexington and Louisville demanding the ad be pulled because it is “materially false,” according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Club for Growth, which is affiliated with School Freedom Fund, is now promoting a revised version of the ad that says Beshear “signed an order intended to release Hamlin from jail.” (The emphasis is ours.) But the new version is still inaccurate. The governor intended to release convicts on nonviolent and nonsexual offenses, not Hamlin on the sodomizing charge.
The thin reed on which the ad relies is that during the height of the pandemic in April and August of 2020 Beshear signed orders to ease prison overcrowding to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among inmates and prison staff.
The executive order Beshear signed on April 10, 2020, proposed to commute the sentence of “697 inmates who are currently serving sentences for non-violent, non-sexual offenses set to expire on or before September 30, 2020.” James Hamlin was among those listed in the order.
At the time, Hamlin was in prison on a conviction for intimidating a participant in a legal process, a Class D felony, related to an offense that dated back to 2018. Prior to his conviction on that charge, however, Hamlin was arrested in 2019 and charged with sodomizing a child. Hamlin had been indicted, but not yet convicted, of that offense when Beshear issued his order on April 10. So when Hamlin was “released” in July 2020, he was immediately turned over to authorities in Kenton County to face the sodomy charges. He pleaded guilty to those charges and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
“James Hamlin was never released to the public,” Morgan Hall, communications director for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, told us via email. “He was always in custody. He was initially serving a sentence for the crime of Intimidating a Participant in a Legal Process when he was eligible for a pandemic commutation in April 2020 for only this conviction.
“But, prior to his conviction for Intimidating a Participant in a Legal Process, Hamlin was indicted in 2019 for other crimes in Kenton County,” Hall said. “In July 2020, the Department of Corrections gave custody of Hamlin to the Kenton County Detention Center based on those pending 2019 charges. He thus stayed in the same jail and was convicted of those 2019 charges in September 2020 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Hamlin remained in custody the entire time and was never released to the public.”
School Freedom Fund says it supports school choice and is highly critical of school shutdowns and mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the alleged teaching of critical race theory. Beshear is seeking reelection in November, and the group supports his opponent, Republican Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
A press release from Club for Growth characterizes Hamlin as “the New Face of the Beshear Campaign,” and quotes School Freedom Fund President David McIntosh saying, “While this blatant disregard for public safety is disgusting and should leave you outraged, it unfortunately comes as no surprise that another radical Democrat put their pro-crime agenda over public well-being.” But again, Hamlin was never released back into the public as a result of Beshear’s commutation order, and Hamlin is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for sodomy and incest. He is not eligible for parole until 2039.
This is the second fact-checking article we have run about an ad from School Freedom Fund that attacks Beshear for the early release of some inmates during the pandemic.
On Sept. 1, we published a story about an ad that featured the case of “predatory felon” Nathan Nickell, whose early release by Beshear — the ad said — allowed Nickell to strike “again.” Nickell was charged in March 2021 with sexually assaulting a child under 12 years old, and other crimes, but when he was released early from prison in August 2020, Nickell was serving an 18-month sentence for heroin possession and was due to be released on Feb. 17, 2021, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
Prisons were particularly hard hit by the pandemic, and Kentucky was no exception. According to the Courier Journal, there were 8,187 cases of COVID-19 among inmates in state prison during the pandemic, and another 1,311 cases among prison staff. By the end of 2021, 48 inmates and eight prison staff members in Kentucky died from COVID-19.
Beshear decided to cut short the sentences of more than 1,800 inmates serving sentences for nonviolent, nonsexual offenses.
Nearly 38,000 inmates in 24 states, including Kentucky, were released early due to the pandemic, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on federal and state prisons.
At the request of Republican state Rep. Jason Nemes, the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts prepared a report, released in October 2021, that found nearly a third of those released early by Beshear in 2020 were subsequently charged with felonies. A review of that data by the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, however, found that most of those charges came after the prisoners’ projected standard release dates, meaning they would have been back on the street even without an early release. Many of those felony charges were for drug crimes.
A subsequent review by the Louisville Courier Journal of those granted early release found that as of Nov. 4, 2021, when its story was published, just three of the prisoners granted early release by Beshear were convicted of violent felonies committed prior to their projected standard release date. Another five who were charged with violent felonies had cases pending.
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