A group of Republican senators organized a petition urging the state Parole Board to deny the release of Judith Clark, who was originally sentenced to 75 years to life for her role in the death of two police officers and a Brinks guard.
Clark is eligible for parole as early as next week, thanks to a controversial decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to commute her sentence in December 2016.
However, Sens. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma; Fred Akshar, R-Colesville; Pamela Helming, R-Canandaigua; and Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn, presented the Parole Board a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures on Wednesday in hopes of keeping Clark behind bars for her role in a 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored car in Nanuet, New York in which three people died.
Petition efforts were driven by law enforcement agencies, police unions, district attorneys and other members of the Senate, as well as the families of the deceased.
In 1983, Clark was found guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Though not accused of the actual shootings, she was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison, the same as one of the admitted killers. Clark was unarmed and drove the getaway vehicle along with Kathy Boudin, who received a 20-year minimum sentence and was released on parole in 2003.
The perpetrators of the robbery shot and killed Brinks guard Peter Paige and severely wounded guard Joseph Trombino before fleeing the scene with $1.6 million in cash. Two Nyack police officers, Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Waverly Brown, were killed after pulling over the getaway vehicle on the entrance ramp to the New York State Thruway.
In December 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo commuted Clark’s sentence, enabling her to appear before the Parole Board this year. In accordance with her original sentencing, Clark would not have been eligible for parole until 2056, at the age of 107.
“This cannot be the message that we send to the rest of this great nation,” said Sen. Golden, a former NYPD officer. He said he is angry and disappointed that New York does not have tougher penalties for those convicted of killing police officers.
“I wish we had the death sentence for anybody that would kill a police officer or law enforcement official,” Golden said.
Clark has been incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County since 1981. In addition to receiving both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from behind bars and even giving the valedictorian address at her graduation ceremony, Clark has been commended for her facilitation of prenatal and parenting classes at the children’s center in Bedford Hills, as well as founding an HIV/AIDS education program and training service dogs with the Puppies Behind Bars program.
Clark publicly renounced her crimes in 1994 and formally apologized to the victims’ families in 2001.
In 2010, Clark petitioned Gov. David Paterson for clemency. She garnered nearly 1,000 letters in support of her petition, including one from Elaine Lord, who served as superintendent of Bedford Hills until 2003.
“I watched her change into one of the most perceptive, thoughtful, helpful and profound human beings that I have ever known, either inside or outside of a prison,” said Lord in her letter to the governor.
Robert Dennison, former chairman of the Parole Board under Governor George Pataki, called her “the most worthy candidate for clemency” he had ever seen.
In response to those who may advocate for her release, Sen. Gallivan, who served as a member of the parole board under three different governors, cited New York Executive Law, which reads that “parole shall not be granted merely as a reward for good conduct” and that granting Clark parole would “so deprecate the seriousness of her crimes as to undermine the law.”
Clark’s parole hearing is scheduled for the first week in April.