Cuomo’s Message: Mercy For One

In my vivid imagination, the folks who write editorials at the New York Times wake up in the middle of the night, sweaty and afraid that someone will point out the hypocrisy in their teary-eyed editorials that defy reason and facts, screaming aloud “cognitive dissonance.” Then again, it’s not as if their readers know or care about the games they play. After all, much as they fancy themselves smart, snugly wrapped in the college degrees, they won’t put in the effort to think any harder than anyone else.

When New York’s pseudo-progressive governor, Andy Cuomo, met with the former radical sentenced to 75 years in prison for the 1981 Brinks heist, Judith Clark, she “touched his heart.” Aww. Who knew Andy even had a heart. The Times folks hugged and cried. Sad stories can do that to empathetic people.

Andy commuted Clark’s sentence, which is a perfectly wonderful thing to do. So why carp? First, because it was a sham commutation.

Her only hope of getting out during her lifetime was a grant of clemency from the governor, a power Mr. Cuomo had almost never exercised in nearly six years in office.

Maybe he was too busy vetoing reform laws. But this time was different. He commuted her sentence to 35 years, but that doesn’t mean she gets out, only that she’s now eligible for parole.

Mr. Cuomo said he was not worried about paying a political price for commuting Ms. Clark’s sentence. “I’ve gotten to a point where if I can sleep at night, I’m happy,” he said. “I can sleep at night with this. I believe showing mercy and justice and compassion and forgiveness is the right signal. You can’t make ‘them’ happy. You live your life by ‘them’ and you’re lost.”

While Andy is standing before the cameras, chin up in his best “fight the man” pose, only one little detail was missed by the Timesfolk. He is the man. And they love him so much for it.

Instead of using his commutation authority to cut her loose, he used it to throw her to the wolves of the Parole Board. Yes, that Parole Board, the one that has burned deserving parolee after deserving parolee. But then, this was Andy’s pick of good parolee. And the Parole Board is made up entirely of Andy’s picks people who were sufficiently loyal to him or the party to deserve a paycheck.

In the best empathetic fashion, with the omission of all salient facts, the Times notes that Clark’s moment of truth is at hand. Will she be freed?

Executive clemency is one way to alleviate harsh punishments, but it’s always dependent on the whims of a given governor or president. Parole can be a more reliable way of determining whether an inmate is ready for release. Parole, if used properly, can offer prisoners an incentive to be productive in the time spent behind bars. But too often, the possibility of getting parole is a mirage.

Such a gentle way of saying that the Parole Board in New York is the most notorious, outrageous, cruel, vicious cesspool of abuse in the system. Cuomo knows it. Everybody in the system knows it. Even the Timesfolk know it. So why is it they mention nothing in their editorial about how Cuomo let John MacKenzie die in prison awaiting parole?

In New York, the Parole Board has long placed too much weight on the nature of the original offense, and not enough on the efforts of the prisoner to atone and improve his or her life. Some Parole Board members continue to take this unfair approach even after state lawmakers clarified the factors they must consider, like how much public-safety risk an inmate would pose if released.

Are they naive, clueless or lying? Is the problem with the Parole Board that nobody told them their job, the factors to consider, that they aren’t absolute dictators, Super Judges who get to do whatever they please? And that there is one, and only, person to whom they answer?

Mr. Cuomo’s grants of clemency should be a sign to board members that part of their job is to give deserving people a second chance if they show that they have changed and grown in prison.

A sign? Andy doesn’t need to send them a message. He can tell them. He appoints them. They serve because he put them there. Andy can pick up the phone any time he wants and yell, “hey, stop being an asshole or you’re out.”  But in the world of the deeply empathetic, signs are the magic ways emotions are conveyed. Maybe the governor’s telephone is broken? There is a message for the Parole Board here: save the one prisoner Andy likes.

But what of Cuomo’s half-assed commutation, if he really wanted to make sure Judith Clark walked out of prison? And what of the hundreds of thousands of other prisoners, each of whom will go into Cuomo’s Parole Board star chamber. Will Andy meet with each of them and see who touches his heart?

Such a sweet story about Clark and empathetic messages sent by New York’s chief progressive to his minions. Kinda makes you tear up and adore Andy for his sad tears. That’s must be what the Timesfolk are aiming for when they write an editorial about sending signs to the Parole Board, because they know too well that it’s all a sham.

Andy can fix all of this any time he wants. He can commute sentences whenever the mood strike. He can appoint anybody he wants to the Parole Board. But does the cognitive dissonance of promoting their favorite son and deliberately conveying the false sense that he’s doing the best he can make the Timesfolk wake up screaming in the middle of the night? I hope so. I doubt it.

16 comments on “Cuomo’s Message: Mercy For One

  1. REvers

    Okay, I’m confused (not an uncommon thing for me until I’ve had about 10 cups of coffee). She’s been in prison 35 years, according to the article. Cuomo commuted her sentence to 35 years. But she has to make parole? What am I missing? Are sentences open-ended in New York?

    I live in one of the more vicious states in terms of sentencing, but even here they put you back on the street when you flatten out your sentence.

    1. SHG Post author

      Statutory sentencing in NY in this case is indeterminate. The technical sentence is 35 to life, commuted from 75 to life. It’s the “life” end that’s left to the absolute discretion of the Parole Board.

      1. REvers

        Aha. Got it.

        My sympathies to you. Your parole board sounds like ours. Almost all are ex-prosecutors. And everybody wonders why the prisons are stuffed way past capacity.

  2. Nick Selby

    Abuses and strict adherence to original sentencing by the New York Parole Board are a matter of record. On the other side of the coin are victims of the original crimes that led to harsh sentencing. Since New York is whence the lamentable, inexcusable, horrific Rockefeller drug-sentencing began to take over our country’s preposterous and shameful “war on drugs” it’s really hard for me to get worked up about drugs convicts.

    But to look at the case at hand, many of the issues you mention are completely irrelevant here. Ms Clark wasn’t some innocent, wrapped up with the wrong crowd. Ms Clark participated in the murder of two police officers in a crime that was, by definition, racially motivated. Under current law, this would be the same kind of hate crime for which South Carolina is executing Dylann Roof. Clark and her cohorts conceived, planned, and executed a heinous, racially-motivated mass murder during an armed robbery. Fry her. That I have to pay for her Ikibana-lessons through New York State’s usurious property taxes makes me physically ill already, but to ask me to start blubbering about her treatment at the hands of the parole board is too much.

    It’s all fine and good to rub our hands and talk about her positive attitude and sunny disposition during her prison macrame classes, but for those too young to remember this horror, or for those who may have forgotten, Ms. Clark was a Black Liberation Army member who participated in the robbery of more than $1.6 million to foment racial revolution, and in the process she helped kill a security guard and two cops – one of whom was the first African American police officer in a New York City suburb. Scott, this is not a great test case for you to whine about the poopy unfairness of the parole board – this chick is a racist cop murderer.

    What’s more, this “army” murdered the officers and the security guard with automatic weapons. I am really surprised to see you defending the reformation of someone who committed such a senseless, hate-and-race-driven, murderous crime. For anyone who supports gun control measures like Governor Cuomo’s ill-conceived, crappily-executed civil liberties grab of the New York SAFE Act, I would think that you of all people would be outraged about the use during these brutal and senseless, racially-motivated killings of machine guns, banned in the United States since 1934. We’re not discussing guns shaped like an M16, we’re talking about someone who actually opened fire in a community during a racist-motivated robbery with an ACTUAL assault rifle.

    No, Scott, zero sympathy. Ms. Clark, along with anyone who commits racially-motivated murders, should be buried under the prison. I don’t even think she should get a marked grave once she expires after what I hope is a long, miserable life full of the suffering appropriate for someone who killed people to advance an agenda of racism and hate.

      1. Nick Selby

        Hahaha, but you are incorrect. It is the responsibility of the Parole Board to consider the original crime, and any subsequent reformation or rehabilitation. That brings the original act into scope. Sorry, bro.

        1. SHG Post author

          You’re focused on Judith Clark, and I understand why the issues raised by her particular case concern you. I’m focused on Cuomo, the Parole Board and the Times. There is a reason why there is no mention whatsoever of Clark’s case in this post. It’s just not about her, and it doesn’t become about her because that’s the sliver that you’ve chosen to focus on.

          1. Nick Selby

            I focused on your use of the term “perfectly wonderful” to describe Cuomo’s commutation her sentence, and on your evident irritation that that perfectly wonderful commutation was a “sham”. From that I inferred that you would have supported a full commutation for Ms. Clark. I aver my inference was not unreasonable given your words here.

            If you wanted to talk about something else, perhaps you might have found some other foundation for your post than Governor Cuomo’s treatment of Ms. Clark’s case for your ire.

            1. SHG Post author

              I can see why that might have been confusing. My “perfectly wonderful” wasn’t directed toward the merits of Clark’s case (which I would have thought clear in context, given that there is nothing whatsoever mentioned anywhere in the post about Clark’s case), but to his first exercise of the commutation power.

              It’s not my fault that the Times chose this as its example giving rise to this post. If I wrote about post praising Cuomo’s selection of Clark because she was particularly deserving, then it would be my fault. I didn’t.

            2. Josh

              I read that more as “issue preclusion,” eliminating the issue of why any CDL would say anything negative about any commutation. It never dawned on me that it had anything to do with Clark’s specific case.

            3. SHG Post author

              One of the problems is that different audiences read the same words differently. I don’t fault Nick for reading what he read. Nick reads through a cop’s eyes. I don’t blame you for reading it differently. As for me, I’m a criminal defense lawyers and this is a criminal defense blog. It’s not like I keep my perspective a big secret.

              Maybe I should have been clearer (and not so curt with Nick), but that’s why they pay me the big bucks.

  3. Jim RYan

    Handy Andy has “softened” his stances on many things since Hillary didn’t make the cut. Dontcha think he looks alot more PRESIDENTIAL???

      1. Wilbur

        Sorta’ reminds me of bringing in Ralph Branca because Erskine was bouncing his curve in the bullpen.

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