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Dust-up leads to Clemency director’s firing

Duane Belcher (second from left) is the former executive director of the state Board of Executive Clemency. (File Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Gov. Jan Brewer fired the outgoing executive director of the Board of Executive Clemency after three newly confirmed appointees showed up late for work Monday.

Their tardiness caused a two-hour delay of clemency hearings as victims and families of prisoners stood by disgruntled, and waited for a quorum to form.

Duane Belcher, the former chairman and executive director of the board who was staying on in a temporary role to help with the transition of new members, said he was escorted by Capitol Police from the governor’s ninth-floor office after a heated exchange with one of Brewer’s top aides.

Belcher said he was fired when he refused to accept blame for the mix up that led to the new members showing up late.

“I’ve dedicated 30 years to this state – 20 years off and on, for the most part with the Board of Executive Clemency – and my reputation has never been in question, as far as I know, and at this point in time, it seems like I am the chosen one to take the blame for something I believe wasn’t my fault,” Belcher said.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson would only confirm that Belcher was fired.

Belcher said his last day was scheduled for May 11 and he was working under a verbal agreement that he would train incoming members Brian Livingston, Melvin Thomas and Jesse Hernandez, who is Belcher’s replacement. All three were confirmed by the Senate last week.

Belcher said he was told by Scott Smith, Brewer’s deputy chief of staff for operations, that he didn’t fulfill his part of the transition agreement by not telling the new members to show up at 8 a.m. for the hearing.

The hearing schedule is posted on the board’s website.

“Well, if you’re given a new job, there’s some initiative that has to be taken on the part of whoever it is that’s starting the new job,” Belcher said.

Belcher said he knew that Thomas, who actually started on Thursday, was going to be late on Monday because he mentioned he had a doctor’s appointment. Belcher said he also believed that Hernandez was going to report to work on Monday morning, but he learned later that day that Hernandez arrived late because he had taken his boss, Rep. David Schweikert, to the airport. Belcher said he had no conversations with Livingston before Monday.

The board has hearings scheduled four days a week and decides on commutations, reprieves and paroles for Arizona’s 40,000 inmates.

Terms for Belcher and former members Ellen Stenson and Marilyn Wilkens ended this year and in 2011. Stenson said she believed she and Belcher weren’t re-appointed because they were the last remaining members of the board that in 2009 unanimously recommended commutation for Bill Macumber, a 76-year-old prisoner serving a life sentence for a double murder that someone else confessed to since his 1975 conviction.

The recommendation and Brewer’s subsequent rejection of it made national headlines and was a hot topic in prisoner advocate circles. Macumber’s son also confronted Brewer during a public appearance demanding to know why she rejected the recommendation.

Stenson said Belcher deserved to be treated better than he was on Monday after serving the state for so long.

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