By Marcus Stern
JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) - Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said on Friday he would ask a court to overturn the majority of former Governor Haley Barbour's 222 pardons of convicts because they failed to meet constitutional requirements.
Barbour, a prominent Republican, sparked controversy by pardoning 222 convicts -- including murderers and rapists -- during his final days in office this month, generating debate about how much power a governor should have to pardon criminals convicted of serious crimes.
"We will introduce our evidence in Hinds County Circuit Court on January 23 and ask the court to hold these purported pardons null and void," Hood said in a statement.
Of the 181 pardons reviewed so far, at least 167 did not meet the constitutional requirement of having published notice of their request for clemency in local newspapers where the crimes were committed, Hood said.
A preliminary review found 203 of the 222 pardons were full pardons, Hood said.
He described it as an "arduous task" to contact all the local newspapers to determine how many of the pardons had met the public notification requirement.
Barbour, in remarks broadcast on CBS Evening News on Friday, said he was "fully confident the pardons and other clemency that I have given are all valid."
"I believe in second chances, and I try hard to be forgiving," Barbour said. "None of these people are considered dangerous or threats to society. Some of them are in wheelchairs or are amputees."
A Mississippi judge on Wednesday barred the state from releasing 21 inmates still serving time when their pardons were announced and ordered five others who had already been freed to appear for a hearing on January 23.
Hood's office was able to contact four of the five men who had already been released to inform them of the court date, but appealed for the public to help in finding the remaining individual.
Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman who considered running for president this year, pardoned more people on his last day of office than his four most recent predecessors combined, according to state government statistics.
Barbour's office has said a minority of those convicts who received clemency remained behind bars and that 90 percent of them were no longer in prison when the pardons were granted.
Barbour had said that the pardons were intended to allow the inmates "to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote," and that his decisions were typically based on the recommendation of the Parole Board.
One of those pardoned was the brother of former National Football League quarterback Brett Favre. Earnest Scott Favre was convicted in 1996 of driving while intoxicated after a vehicle he was driving crashed and killed his best friend.
Also included were four men convicted of murder and another convicted of armed robbery, all serving life sentences, who worked at the governor's mansion cleaning vehicles, waiting tables and performing other domestic duties.
(Reporting by Marcus Stern and Peter Cooney; Writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Paul Thomasch)