Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin pardons man serving life sentence over sodomizing 6-year-old stepdaughter

Paul Donel Hurt was convicted in 2001 of two counts of sexual abuse in the first degree and three counts of sodomy in the first degree. 18 years later, he's been pardoned after the judge responsible for his conviction lobbied for him.


                            Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin pardons man serving life sentence over sodomizing 6-year-old stepdaughter

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin issued a total of 16 pardons this past week, including one to a man who was given a life sentence after he was convicted of sexually abusing and sodomizing his six-year-old stepdaughter.

In his pardon and commutation order, obtained by the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bevin said Paul Donel Hurt had been wrongfully convicted in 2001 of two counts of sexual abuse in the first degree and three counts of sodomy in the first degree.

"Hindsight is never truly 20/20, but 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," he wrote, adding that "in light of all that is known and all that will forever remain unknown, it does not seem possible that justice can be truly served in this instance."

He said it was his "moral duty to commute the remaining sentence of Paul Donel Hurt and to grant him the full and unconditional pardon that he has requested" and that he hoped Hurt would "find his faith in God and in his fellow man restored."

The pardon comes after the victim recanted her testimony in an evidentiary hearing in 2015, but critics have brought up the possibility that she was coerced to do so by Jefferson Circuit Judge Stephen Mershon, the same judge who was responsible for Hurt's conviction.

Indeed, after that hearing in 2015, the trial court upheld Hurt's conviction, with Jefferson Circuit Judge Audra Jean Eckerle stating that the recantation was an "inconsistent, shifting account" that was "no more likely to be true than false."

The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in August 2018, noting that after Mershon retired, he began corresponding with Hurt in prison. He also contacted the victim, after which she came forward to recant her testimony.

Eckerle expressed her concern over the "highly unusual circumstance" of Mershon "confronting her directly and privately" and sided with the prosecution, who argued that the judge "altered the victim's memory" and used "judicial coercion and intimidation" to make her "claim falsely that she had lied (at) trial."

Pamella Darnall, the president of the Family & Children's Place, a regional advocacy center that evaluates and treats children who have been victims of sexual abuse, said she could not understand the pardon and that children do not lie about such matters.

"The research continually bears out that the majority of kids are not making it up," she said. "These are people in power. This is a judge. This is what kids deal with when people who are the adults... pressure these kids."

Meanwhile, Hurt was released from the Kentucky State Reformatory on Friday.

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