New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to commute the sentence of a domestic terrorist, Judith Alice Clark, who willingly participated in a bloody robbery that led to the deaths of a security guard and two police officers. Clark, who pleaded not guilty, but was convicted of felony murder, had been sentenced to such a long prison term that she had no real hope for parole during her lifetime – until now. Cuomo’s decision to commute Clark’s sentence will not immediately result in her release, but the steep reduction in her sentence will make her eligible for parole early this year. The loved ones of the three men killed during the robbery and getaway in which Clark took an active part will have to continue to experience their hellish losses for as long as they live. Unless all the family members of the slain are ready to forgive what the self-proclaimed “revolutionary” and “freedom fighter” did, and they do not object to Clark’s release on parole, she should continue to experience her own hell in jail for as long as she lives.
On October 20, 1981, Clark joined members of the violent radical group known as the Weather Underground, who robbed a Brink’s armored truck in Nanuet, New York. Clark, who did not pull the trigger herself, was the driver of one of the getaway cars. Her partners in crime killed a Brinks guard, Peter Paige, in the course of the robbery. They also killed the two police officers, Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady, who had attempted to stop the getaway vehicles on the highway. Clark was captured after she crashed one of the getaway vehicles. Just before her arrest, according to the 2008 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denying Clark’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, “police saw Clark reach for a nine-millimeter pistol on the floor of the car.”
During the two years Clark waited for her trial on felony murder charges, she remained as defiant as ever. In court, she called the court officers “fascist dogs.” She described herself as an “anti-imperialist freedom fighter,” who refused to accept the legitimacy of the court. She declared that she was involved in “a just struggle for national liberation by New Afrikan forces and New Afrikan people” and was fulfilling “the responsibility of white anti-imperialists to give support to that at every level.” She and two other defendants filed a motion seeking to be accorded “prisoner of war status” because their criminal prosecution was “an international dispute” related to “the wars of liberation.“
In her closing argument that Clark delivered to the jury, she called the court “a tool of imperialist rule.” She added: “The D.A. calls what happened on October 20, 1981, a robbery and murder. We say it was an attempted expropriation because revolutionary forces must take from the powers that be to build their capabilities to struggle against this system…Revolutionary violence is necessary and it is a liberating force.”
Obviously, Clark demonstrated not a single hint of remorse for participating in a crime that led to the murders of three people. Neither the jury nor the judge in Clark’s case were impressed with Clark’s revolutionary rhetoric. The jury returned a guilty verdict. The judge sentenced Clark to a minimum of 75 years to life imprisonment, rendering her release on parole while she is alive virtually impossible. The judge noted that Clark showed “no respect for human life.” For her part, Clark smirked. As she was taken to prison to serve out her sentence, she clenched a fist of solidarity.
After planning an escape from prison, Clark was placed in solitary confinement for two years. Clark would presumably have spent the rest of her days in prison – that is, until Governor Cuomo intervened last week with a stroke of the pen. Referring to Ms. Clark’s “extraordinary amount of time” behind bars and extolling her “exceptional strides in self-development” during that time, Cuomo commuted her sentence. As a result, Clark may get out of jail this year on parole, at the age of 67. As the governor observed in his statement, under the original sentence “she would be 106 years old before she becomes eligible for parole, leaving her without an opportunity to appear before the parole board during her natural lifetime.” Of course, that was the very point of the original sentence, which Cuomo has shamefully shortened considerably.
Cuomo’s clemency decision came after a long campaign to secure Clark’s early eligibility for parole on grounds of compassion and her purported rehabilitation. Clark and her supporters have built up a narrative of a woman radically transformed, from a revolutionary willing to commit violence for the “cause” to a devoted mother and a model prisoner interested in the welfare of others. Supposedly, she came to realize the gravity of her crime while in solitary, where she reportedly began to show remorse for what she had done. However, there is nothing to indicate that she ever turned on her former radical comrades in the Weather Underground,the Black Liberation Army, and May 19 Communist Organization, whom might have been brought to justice for their crimes if Clark had chosen to reveal what she knew.
The author of a 2012 _New York Times_ article entitled “Judith Clark’s Radical Transformation,” who claimed to know Clark, wrote how Clark, in her words, realized that she had “experienced so much loss, and created so much loss, for the sake of an illusion.” After her father died of a heart attack on Christmas Day 1988, according to Clark’s account as told in the _Times_ article, Clark began to empathize with the children of the fathers who lost their lives as a result of the crime she had participated in. Then, as the New York _Times _narrative of magical transformation tells it, she plunged herself into earning a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and a master’s degree in psychology. She wrote poetry and helped other prisoners through various programs that she led. All the while, the _Times_ article said, Clark was feeling “a wrenching guilt over her crime.” Her abandonment of her infant daughter, resulting from her crime and subsequent imprisonment, was said to have weighed especially hard on her, helping her to turn her life around.
David Horowitz wrote a compelling rebuttal to the thesis advanced by the _New York Times_ article that Clark deserved recognition for her miraculous transformation. He noted that
a truly remorseful terrorist will feel obligated to turn his back on his fellow terrorists and their supporters and do the innocent a service by revealing what they know, and who their networks are, and what they actually did – not just what they got caught doing. This kind of truth-telling is an authentic form of atonement and would protect others – and particularly young radicals just starting out who may become involved in criminal ventures just as Clark did when she was young and the tragedies she caused were still in front of her.
Clark has never shown such genuine remorse. Nevertheless, the grounds-well for shortening Clark’s sentence continued to build. Her advocates pointed to her supposed repentance and argued that she had received a much harsher sentence than the other defendants. Previous rejections of pleas for clemency only spurred on Clark’s advocates to keep trying. Past presidents of the New York City Bar Association wrote letters on Clark’s behalf. A former New York City’s corporation counsel asked rhetorically what purpose would be served by locking Clark up forever.
Cuomo succumbed to the pressure. He noted that one of Clark’s co-defendants, Katherine Boudin, who pleaded guilty to one charge of second degree murder and was sentenced to twenty years to life, was paroled in September, 2003 after serving twenty years. She is now a professor at Columbia University.
If Boudin as well as some of Clark’s other fellow gang members have been released, why not Clark, ask her supporters and presumably Cuomo himself?
The answer is simple. The others should not have been released in the first place. All the gang members, including Clark, deserve to serve the full terms of their sentences for what they did. It is irrelevant whether Clark, Boudin or any of the others involved in the robbery and murders have become model citizens. The sentences were not about encouraging and rewarding rehabilitation. They were about justice for those brave men who were brutally shot down in their prime of life and the families whom have had to endure the pain ever since. As Michael Paige, the son of the slain Brinks security guard Peter Paige, said, “For Governor Cuomo to even think of commuting the sentence of a triple murderer who murdered police officers and my father — that, to me, is the gravest form of injustice to these three men, who were killed standing their ground and protecting us.”
Until all the families of the slain are ready to forgive Judith Clark and consent to her release on parole, nobody else has a moral right to give her a break, including Governor Cuomo and the parole board.