A state parole hearing was held April 3 for Judith Clark, who for the past 38 years has been imprisoned for her role in the 1981 murder of two Nyack police officers and a Brink’s guard during an armed robbery in which she served as one of the getaway drivers.
Ms. Clark, who originally was sentenced to 75 years to life more for her courtroom raving during the trial than her role in the crime, had her sentence commuted by Governor Cuomo late in 2016, making her eligible for parole. Amid strong opposition from law-enforcement groups, she was denied release in April 2017.
A judge later ordered that she get a new hearing, ruling that Parole Board members focused too much on her crime and not enough on efforts she made starting in the late 1980s to rehabilitate herself. A politically conservative former Chairman of the Board of Parole, Robert Dennison, previously called her “the most worthy candidate for clemency that I’ve seen in all my years,” referring to her work during the past 30 years teaching prenatal parenting classes for female inmates at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and AIDS awareness classes, and training puppies to became service dogs for both law-enforcement personnel and disabled veterans.
The three-person parole panel has until April 17 to reach a decision. It is likely that law-enforcement groups, as well as family members of the three slain employees—Brinks guard Peter Paige and Nyack Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Police Officer Waverly (“Chipper”) Brown—will appeal to them to keep her incarcerated.
Those believing she has paid a sufficiently steep price have increased from 60 elected officials two years ago to more than 80 who signed a letter sent to the Parole Commissioners on the day before her hearing, including former Mayor David Dinkins, 26 City Council Members past and present, including Speaker Corey Johnson, 20 Members of the State Assembly, 12 Members of Congress and 11 State Senators, as well as the City Comptroller and Public Advocate.
It stated, “Judith Clark is painfully aware of the irrevocable harm she caused, and for more than three decades has done everything a human being could do to repair, repent and express remorse. She again forthrightly acknowledged her role, accepted responsibility, and expressed her contrition to the Parole Board at her initial appearance before the Board in April 2017.”
The Parole Board was justifiably excoriated for its release a year ago of Herman Bell, who had been one of the shooters in the 1971 ambush murders of NYPD cops Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini. But while the circumstances had a passing similarity to the murders in Rockland County—the city officers were lured to their deaths by a phony distress call, the two Nyack cops were fatally shot after Kathy Boudin persuaded them they had stopped the wrong vehicle and got them to lower their weapons—the roles of Mr. Bell and Ms. Clark were vastly different.
One of the terrible ironies of Ms. Clark’s situation is that she has served far more time behind bars than the shooters. And Ms. Boudin, despite making her murderous comrades’ task easier, was released after slightly more than 20 years behind bars, aided by good legal advice from her father, a noted civil-liberties attorney.
One of the more-compelling arguments for Ms. Clark’s release came in an April 4 Daily News op-ed by NY1 anchor Errol Louis, who noted that as the son of a retired NYPD Inspector, he opposed parole for her in the past.
“The loss suffered by the cops’ families is the unspeakable nightmare lurking in the background of every kid whose father straps on a weapon and heads out into the night,” he wrote. “But a long talk with my dad about Chipper Brown and Clark has convinced me otherwise. ‘Thirty-eight years. How long is enough?’ he asked me.”
Some in the law-enforcement community will argue that the right answer is forever. But given the reality that, terrible as her participation in the crime was, Ms. Clark was the least culpable of those involved but has served by far the longest sentence because of her obnoxious behavior at the time of the trial, her changed demeanor and good work for 30 years since warrants recognition in the form of freedom.
To argue otherwise seems more about revenge than justice.