U.S. News

Suspect in U.S. cop killings is shot dead by police

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A man accused of gunning down four police officers was shot and killed by authorities on Tuesday in a case that could affect a potential 2012 U.S. presidential candidate who granted him clemency in the past.

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Maurice Clemmons, wanted in the Sunday morning fatal shootings of four officers in a coffee shop near Tacoma, Washington, was shot dead by a police officer in south Seattle, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said.

The crime received national attention in the United States in part because Clemmons, while serving a long prison sentence, had received clemency from then-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and has said he is considering running again in 2012.

Clemmons has been in and out of prison for various criminal convictions over the past two decades.

He was sentenced in 1989 to 108 years in prison after being convicted of aggravated robbery and other charges in Arkansas. In 2000, Huckabee commuted his sentence and Clemmons was granted parole, according to U.S. media reports.

Clemmons returned to prison a year later for a robbery conviction, but was released again in 2004 by the parole board, according to U.S. media reports.

Huckabee’s record of granting clemency to other convicted criminals has drawn previous criticism.

Huckabee is a political conservative who is one of the most prominent possible 2012 Republican presidential candidates. His party prides itself on being tough on crime. Some Republicans have accused Democrats of being too lenient on criminals.

Huckabee has sought to downplay his link to Clemmons.

“Should he be found to be 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 said in a statement posted on his website Sunday.

Authorities have called the shootings at the Forza Coffee Shop an ambush, but have not ascribed a motive. The attack occurred 40 miles southwest of Seattle. The officers were preparing for their day shift when they were shot.

A handgun belonging to one of them was found in Clemmons’ possession Tuesday, police said. A suspected getaway driver and three other people who may have helped Clemmons evade police for two days also have been arrested, police said.

Reporting by Bill Rigby, Editing by Will Dunham