Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin pardoned a man convicted of sexually abusing his 6-year-old stepdaughter on Friday in a written executive order. Belvin 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.” Hurt’s stepdaughter, whose identity has not been made public, told her mother in 2000 that Hurt had sexually abused her for months, according to court documents. The following year, he was convicted of three counts of sodomy and two counts of sexual abuse, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, and sentenced to life in prison. Belvin, who will be replaced by Democrat Andy Beshear as governor next month, is reportedly among the country’s most unpopular governors.
Bevin’s pardon hinges on Hurt’s stepdaughter recanting her allegations in 2015. Several judges declined, however, to set aside Hurt’s conviction, the Courier-Journal reported. In 2016, Jefferson Circuit Judge Audra Jean Eckerle said that Jefferson Circuit Judge Stephen Mershon, who had continued to look into the case after Hurt’s conviction, had “altered” the stepdaughter’s memory and used “judicial coercion and intimidation” to get her to recant her testimony, which she did after Mershon privately and directly contacted her. The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in August 2018.