Kentucky governor pardons man serving life sentence for sexually abusing 6-year-old

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) on Friday pardoned a man convicted in 2001 of sexually abusing his 6-year-old stepdaughter, saying the man was wrongly convicted and commuting his life sentence.

In his order, Bevin wrote, “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.”

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Hurt’s accuser recanted her testimony in an evidentiary hearing in 2015, according to the Louisville Courier Journal, but a judge ruled the recantation was a “shifting account” and “no more likely to be true than false.”

An appeals court upheld the ruling last August, with Jefferson County Circuit Judge Audra Jean Eckerle noting that after the original judge in the case, Stephen Mershon, retired, he began a correspondence with both Hurt and his stepdaughter, with her recantation following thereafter.

Eckerle called Mershon’s personal involvement a “highly unusual” feature of the case and expressed suspicion that “by using judicial coercion and intimidation, that he overcame her, causing her to claim falsely that she had lied [at] trial,” according to the newspaper.

Mershon also pushed Bevin’s predecessor, Steve Beshear (D), to pardon Hurt, and picked Hurt up from the state prison in La Grange following the pardon, according to the newspaper. He said he still believes Hurt to be innocent but acknowledged a chance eh could be wrong.

Bevin, who was defeated in his reelection bid by Attorney General Andrew Beshear (D), the son of Steve Beshear, earlier this month, apologized last year after suggesting that statewide protests by Kentucky teachers would lead to unsupervised students being sexually assaulted.