Cole's friendship with Mike Huckabee ran deeper, back to when Huckabee was the youngest-ever head of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. The two men produced Bible lessons on videotape. "We worked heavily with him when he got politically involved too," Cole said.
FOR THE RECORD:
Freed rapist: A photo caption with an article in Saturday's Section A about Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's involvement with the case of rapist Wayne DuMond while Huckabee was governor of Arkansas said DuMond suffocated a mother of six after he was released. The victim was a mother of three. —
A little over 10 years ago, the paths of these three men merged in Little Rock, the state capital, where Huckabee was the new governor. With Cole's urging, and with DuMond insisting he was "born again," Huckabee played a key role in setting free a rapist who was supposed to serve many more years, say three of the seven members of the state board that paroled DuMond.
After being released, DuMond moved to Missouri, where less than a year later he suffocated the mother of three in a Kansas City suburb. Police suspect that he killed another woman there as well.
How a convicted rapist went free has become an issue in today's increasingly heated presidential campaign. As if out of nowhere, Huckabee has surged to a leading spot in public opinion polls in the Republican contest. Amid the new attention, he is facing questions about whether his deep Christian faith -- what on the stump he says "defines me" -- colored his view of Wayne DuMond's case.
Trying to bury any doubts, Huckabee said this week that he had "considered" -- but then rejected -- the idea of using his powers as governor to commute DuMond's sentence and release him for time served. The state parole board acted before he had to make a final call. It was the parole board, Huckabee said, that unlocked the cell door.
"It was a horrible situation, horrible. I feel awful about it in every way. I wish there was some way I could go back and reverse the clock and put him back in prison," the candidate said at a news conference this week.
Though he acknowledged discussing the case with the state parole board, Huckabee said that conversation was "simply part of a broader discussion" initiated at the request of the board chairman. "I did not ask them to do anything," he said.
Three board members recalled it differently. They said Huckabee raised the issue of DuMond's release, asking to discuss the matter with them in a closed session. They said his religious beliefs, and the influence of the evangelical community from which he came, drove him.
"We felt pressured by him," said board member Ermer Pondexter. "I felt compelled to do it. . . . It was a favor for the governor."
Looking back, she added, "I regret it."
Parole board member Deborah Springer Suttlar said Huckabee did not mince his feelings about DuMond: "He wanted him out."
A committee of board members voted to parole DuMond. It took the action just before the deadline by which Huckabee would have had to decide what assistance, if any, he would grant to an inmate whom he had already said he wanted to help.
"He thought DuMond just grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, that he may have gotten a raw deal and a longer sentence than others under similar circumstances," recalled board member Charles Chastain, who said he was the lone dissenter in a 4-1 committee vote to grant parole.
All seven members of the board had been appointed by Huckabee's Democratic predecessors.
The board chairman declined to comment; one board member could not be reached and one said he did not remember details of the case. A seventh member is deceased.
Huckabee said at the news conference that he was unnerved by accounts from parole board and other critics that he played a larger role in DuMond's release. "There will be people who will probably be brought forth to make statements but, you know, I can't fix it," he said. "I can only tell the truth and let the truth be my judge."