Valedictorian of her college class, chaplain, doctoral candidate, published writer and poet. Judith Clark is all of these.
She is also a convicted killer.
Ms. Clark, who will turn 70 in November, is 38 years into a prison sentence for her role in a militant group’s October 1981 heist of a Brink’s truck in Rockland County during which a guard, Peter Paige, and later, two policemen, Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady, were murdered.
Sentenced to Life
Although she did not fire any shots, her defiance at her 1983 trial led the judge to pronounce her incapable of rehabilitation and sentenced her to a minimum of 75 years to life.
She could be freed within the next few days.
In December 2016, Governor Cuomo, citing what he called Ms. Clark’s “exceptional strides in self-development,” commuted her minimum sentence to time served—35 years—making her eligible for parole.
Following her first hearing before the state Parole Board two years ago, which lasted eight hours over two days, the three-person panel unanimously concluded that her release “at this time is incompatible with the welfare of society...and that it would deprecate the seriousness of your crimes as to undermine respect for the law. You are still a symbol of violent and terroristic crime.”
Ms. Clark appealed, arguing that the panel’s decision was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to established law. State Supreme Court Judge John J. Kelley agreed, concluding, in essence, that the board had failed to follow the legislation governing parole determinations and had focused too intently on the severity of the crime rather than “on a forward-looking paradigm”—her efforts at rehabilitation, which have included instructing fellow inmates on AIDS awareness and prenatal care and training puppies as service dogs for both law-enforcement personnel and disabled veterans.
She appeared before the board for the second time April 3. A decision must be issued by April 17.
Over the years, numerous former prosecutors, elected officials, advocates, former Parole Board Commissioners, and her former Superintendent at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, about 25 miles from the robbery and murders, have campaigned for her release.
Among them are former Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau; Norma Hill, a victim of the robbery who testified against Ms. Clark at her trial; and Vanda Seward, the former Director of Reentry Services for the state Department of Corrections.
Another parole supporter, former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, called Ms. Clark “a poster person for rehabilitation.”
“She’s grown as a person,” he said in an interview. “She has genuine remorse, she’s accepted responsibility” for what Judge Lippman referred to as a “heinous crime.”
Echoing Judge Kelley, Mr. Lippman said he was hopeful the board’s decision this time would be based “on respect for the law and a demonstration of rehabilitation.”
“You don’t have too many people who have such a demonstration of good deeds during rehabilitation,” he said. “It’s something that in the end is the right thing to do,” he said of Ms. Clark’s release.
But the Rockland County Executive, Ed Day, a former NYPD cop who has lived in Rockland County since 1983, believes that Ms. Clark should die behind bars.
“The Governor acted with complete disregard to the facts of the case,” he said of Mr. Cuomo’s clemency grant.
When the sentence was levied, the Judge determined she would spend 75 to life, he said. “There was no intent that she should be released,” Mr. Day said. “This is a domestic terrorist.”
Even conducting parole hearings for Ms. Clark, he said, amounts to “torturing” three spouses and nine children.
He said he was familiar with her good deeds in prison, adding “I would urge her to keep doing that until her natural death."
'Past vs. Present'
Told of Mr. Lippman’s and Mr. Day’s respective opinions, Ms. Clark’s attorney, Steven Zeidman, said, “One focuses on 1981 and the other on 2019.”
In an email, Mr. Zeidman, also a Professor at the CUNY School of Law, said clemency and eventual parole of prisoners who have atoned and worked to better themselves and their fellow inmates has a reverberative effect.
“Having worked on many parole matters, I can tell you that each time someone who persevered and transformed in prison is granted parole, it reverberates and has a major positive impact throughout the prison,” Mr. Zeidman said. “Conversely, when a seemingly meritorious person is denied based on their crime from decades before, it sends a message of futility and despair throughout the prison...I think that kind of message can only be described as relentlessly merciless and punitive.”