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suspected shooter Clemmons had prison sentence commuted

Lakewood, Washington (CNN) -- The man wanted for questioning in the fatal shooting of four police officers at a coffee shop had his 95-year prison sentence commuted by then-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, authorities said late Sunday.

The sheriff's office in Pierce County, where the ambush occurred Sunday morning, have not identified Maurice Clemmons as a suspect, but said it is looking for him as part of its investigation.

Arkansas officials told the sheriff's office that Clemmons is the same person who received clemency from Huckabee in 2001, said sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.

Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate in 2008, is considering a run for president in 2012.

"Should he be found responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington state," Huckabee's office said in a statement Sunday night.

Clemmons, 37, of Pierce County has an "extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and theft," the sheriff's department said in a statement.

He also was recently charged in Pierce County in the assault of a police officer and rape of a child, according to the statement.

Troyer said Arkansas law enforcement officials have indicated that they are willing to forgo Clemmons' warrants in that state to avoid extraditing him if needed.

Huckabee cited Clemmons' young age -- 17 at the time of his sentencing -- when he announced his decision to commute the sentence, according to newspaper articles.

"It was not something I was pleased with at the time," said

Larry Jegley, who prosecuted Clemmons for aggravated robbery and other charges in Pulaski County, Arkansas. "I would be most distressed if this is the same guy."

Huckabee's office said Clemmons' commutation was based on the recommendation of the parole board that determined that he met the conditions for early release.

"He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him," the statement said.

CNN could not immediately confirm the account. But the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper reported that soon after his release in 2001, Clemmons was arrested for aggravated robbery and theft.

He was taken back to prison for parole violation. But, said the paper, he was not served with the arrest warrants for the robbery and theft charges until he left prison three years later.

His attorney argued the charges should be dismissed because too much time had passed by then. And prosecutors dropped the charges.

Sunday's shooting was the first for the Lakewood Police Department, which was created five years ago for the town of nearly 60,000. Until then, the Pierce County sheriff's office provided law-enforcement services there.

The four officers -- three males, one female -- were awaiting the start of their shift at a coffee shop in Parkland, a unincorporated community just south of Lakewood and about 10 miles from Tacoma.

Authorities identified the victims as Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; Officer Ronald Owens, 37; Officer Tina Griswold, 40; and Officer Greg Richards, 42.

All four had been with the department since its inception. And all of them were parents.

The officers were in uniform and had marked patrol cars parked outside.

The shop on Steele Street is a popular hangout for law enforcement officers and is one of 22 Forza Coffee Co. locations in Washington.

"As a retired police officer, this senseless shooting hits extremely close to home to me," Brad Carpenter, the chief executive officer of Forza, said in a statement on the company's Web site.

The shooter walked past the officers to the counter as if to order coffee before he pulled the gun out of his coat and opened fire at 8:15 a.m., the sheriff's office said.

The attack occurred without warning, and investigators have not come up with possible motives.

Two of the officers were "executed" as they sat at a table, said Troyer, the sheriff's spokesman.

Another was shot when he stood up and the fourth was shot after struggling with the gunman all the way out the door, Troyer said.

Two baristas and other customers inside the shop were unharmed. "Just the law enforcement officers were targeted," Troyer said, calling the shooting an ambush.

"What happened in there wasn't just a shooting," he told reporters. "After, we believe, some of the officers were shot, one of them managed to fight his way with the suspect -- fight his way, wrestle, fight all the way out the the doorway until he was shot and died of a gunshot wound.

"There's also evidence that a Lakewood officer fired some shots and we hope he hit him," Troyer added.

Investigators were checking area hospitals to determine whether the gunman sought medical treatment. A $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest.

Some tips have come in, and investigators are following leads, one of which turned out to be "an unfortunate hoax," Troyer said.

A Tacoma man called "multiple people" claiming to be the gunman, though authorities determined the man was lying.

"We lost a lot of resources and man hours on that," said Troyer, adding the man was arrested and now faces obstruction charges.

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Added: Nov-30-2009 Occurred On: Nov-29-2009
By: slovenac81
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Tags: clemmons, shooting, washington, lakewood, police, execution,
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