In addition to granting conditional pardons to more than 100 New Yorkers who were convicted of non-violent crimes as minors, Governor Cuomo has commuted what he called the "extraordinarily long sentence" of Judith Clark, who was charged with murder and robbery for driving a getaway car in a botched 1981 robbery that left three people dead.
Clark, a member of the Weathermen and the Black Liberation Army, was part of a group that tried to rob a Brinks truck at a Rockland County shopping mall—the robbery was unsuccessful, but two armored-car guards and two police officers were shot. The then 31-year-old Clark was driving the getaway car.
In 1983 she was convicted for second-degree murder and first-degree robbery and sentenced to 75 years to life, one of the longest sentences given among her six co-defendants.
She has served over 35 years of her sentence at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women and is now 67 years old. Based on her original sentence, she wouldn't have been eligible for parole until she was 106 years old. The commutation will allow her to appear before the Board of Parole during the first quarter of 2017.
According to a press release from Cuomo's office, Clark earned a Bachelor's and Master's from Mercy College while serving time at Bedford Hills. She has also taught pre-natal parenting classes in the prison's nursery program, founded an HIV/AIDS education program, trained service dogs through the Puppies Behind Bars program, and served as a college tutor.
Judge David Ritter said at the time of Clark's conviction that she and her co-defendants "hold society in contempt and have no respect for human life," and that he saw no chance for future rehabilitation. "One thing about Judith Clark I will never forget was her smiling face as she was led out of the police station in Nyack into the back of that car," John Hanchar, the nephew of a police sergeant who was killed during the robbery, told the Times.
"She is very grateful to the governor, she is very excited but she is aware that this news will be painful and difficult to those who lost loved ones in the Brinks robbery. The question becomes how much punishment is enough," Clark's attorney Steven Zeidman told the Daily News on Friday.
In a statement released on Saturday, Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, blasted Cuomo's decision to commute Clark's sentence.
"This is inexcusable, a complete travesty of the justice system," Mullins said. "This was a vicious, vile, and heinous crime and three good men with families were murdered for doing their jobs. To this day, family members bear the weight of the death of their loved ones, while Judith Clark gets to resume her life."
Mullins added that Cuomo's latest act of clemency "will not be forgotten by those who are paid to protect and serve, often with little or no support from elected officials."
In October 2015, Cuomo granted clemency to four people: two prisoners, and two previously convicted of drug offenses. In a statement, Cuomo said commuting Clark's sentence is "one more step toward a more just, more fair, and more compassionate New York for all."