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Diverse group seeks clemency for Judy Clark


By ANTHONY R. MANCINI
ANTHONY R. MANCINI PHOTO

Reporter Tom Robbins speaking in favor of clemency for Judy Clark at the library on April 25.

 

Members of Friends of Judith Clark, an activist group devoted to the release from prison of the eponymous former radical and 1981 Brink’s robbery participant, spoke to a group of approximately 80 people at the Katonah Village Library on April 25 to promote their cause.

Ms. Clark, who is serving a 75-year-to-life sentence in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder and six counts of robbery due to her role in a Brink’s robbery. The robbery occurred on Oct. 20, 1981, when armed radicals assaulted a Brink’s armored truck in Nyack, shooting and killing one guard and severely wounding another. The robbers later shot at police after being pulled over in a getaway vehicle, killing two officers. Participants in the robbery, Ms. Clark included, were either members of or affiliated with revolutionary radical groups such as the Black Liberation Army, the
ANTHONY R. MANCINI PHOTO

Judy Clark, who is seeking parole from Bedford Hills Correction Facility where she is serving a 75-year-to-life sentence.

 
Weather Underground Organization and the May 19th Communist Organization.

Ms. Clark was arrested the day of the incident, along with two of her co-conspirators, after crashing what court documents describe as a getaway vehicle. Court documents say Ms. Clark was not accused of performing any shootings during the robbery or subsequent escape attempt.

Ms. Clark was 31 years old at the time of the robbery. She has been serving most of the past 30 years in Bedford Hills, and her supporters say that she has long since paid for her crime. She is remorseful about the three men who died during the robbery and has bettered herself and helped others in prison by working with inmate mothers and inmates with AIDS.

Rabbi Arik Wolf of Chabad of Bedford, who has met with Ms. Clark on multiple occasions during his time spent working with prisoners, said upon first meeting her that he was surprised she had developed into the person she is today.

“I met a deep, thoughtful, spiritual, introspective person,” he said. “We spoke about her spiritual journey. We spoke about her crimes. We spoke about the gut-wrenching process of taking responsibility for what she did and for the pain she caused other people. Just the idea of somebody changing themselves, somebody working on their own character, somebody who knows they have been in a bad place and doing a full transformation, is unbelievable.”

The Rev. Ronald Lemmert, former chaplain of Bedford Hills Correctional, said at the event that both prisoners and corrections officers alike have an admiration for Ms. Clark, which is highly unusual. Father Lemmert said Ms. Clark eventually dropped her radical attitude, in large part due to her relationship with her daughter, who was an infant at the time of the robbery.

“It started when she was in solitary confinement for two years. During that time she was reflecting on some of her past choices and how much she had hurt her young daughter by the choices she had made,” he said. “It occurred to her how badly the children of the men that had been killed in the Brink’s robbery felt, how their children were also in pain. This was one of the things that helped bring about her conversion.”

Father Lemmert said in his travels to Rwanda after the 1994 genocide of the country’s Tutsi population he found that many of the survivors and family members of victims were able to learn to forgive and eventually release many convicted perpetrators.

“I spoke with numerous survivors throughout Rwanda who got tired of living in the hell that they have created for themselves from their hatred and bitterness. Eventually they learned to find peace through forgiveness,” he said. “We owe it to our own crime victims’ families to show them a better way. If keeping Judy locked up for the past 30 years has not given them any peace yet, I seriously doubt if more time will ever help them find peace in the future.”

Ms. Clark’s supporters say that her long sentence was due in large part to her behavior in court, which was often disruptive. During her 1983 trial, Ms. Clark opted to represent herself. She said at the trial that she did not recognize the authority of the court and referred to the robbery as an attempted expropriation of funds to further her group’s revolutionary movement. Court documents say Ms. Clark eventually waived her right to attend the trial and that she was informed she would be able to defend herself if she wished. Ms. Clark appealed her sentence in 2002 on the grounds that she was deprived of her constitutional right to counsel at a trial. In 2006, a federal district judge reversed Ms. Clark’s conviction. However, in 2008, the second circuit of the federal Court of Appeals struck down this decision.

Others who were convicted of crimes due to their involvement in the Brink’s robbery have received shorter sentences, and some have since been released from prison, supporters of Ms. Clark said.

Tom Robbins, a resident journalist at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine about Ms. Clark’s reformation in prison. He said at the event that he knew Ms. Clark in the ’70s and described her as a “wonderful, wild, smiling person with a great wit,” who was also very passionate about her beliefs. He said he was appalled to hear about the robbery when it happened and that he eventually heard that Ms. Clark had abandoned her radical mindset, which lead to his piece that was published last year. He said at the event that in his experiences as a reporter, Ms. Clark’s lengthy sentence is a rarity.

“I’ve reported about a lot of bad people: gangsters, killers, and I’ve seen a lot of them go to prison for doing much more horrendous deeds, killing multiples of people, then come out,” he said. “Very few of them do forever, which is what Judy Clark is doing.”

Sara Bennett, an attorney who represents Ms. Clark, said she has few legal options at this point and that Ms. Clark’s first opportunity for parole would be in 2056, when she would be 107 years old. She has been urging supporters to write letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has the power to grant Ms. Clark clemency, which would allow her to see a parole board sooner. She said, however, that Mr. Cuomo has not exercised this power during his tenure in office.

“It’s something that most governors and most presidents don’t want to touch,” she said. “The more people know about her and the more people’s lips it’s on all the time, the more likelihood that someday the government may decide to do the right thing.”

Ms. Clark receives praise from organizations that work with inmates. Sister Elaine Roulet, who founded the Children’s Center at Bedford Hills Correctional, a program that assists inmate mothers, said at the event that she considers Ms. Clark as one of the candidates most deserving of release. Anael Revil, who served seven years at Bedford Hills for sale of a controlled substance, said she met Ms. Clark during her work at the prison’s nursery program.

“In that environment we constantly walk around pretending everything is OK, and everything is not OK sometimes, and Judy always knew the exact words to reach your heart,” Ms. Revil said at the event. “She did commit a crime, but I have met a lot of people who have done a lot more. The real rehabilitation is when you’re back into the world. You see the things that you’ve missed and the things that you’ve done to people and your family, to your victims.”

Not every attendee at the event thought that Ms. Clark should be released from prison. Joan Hallowell, a Pound Ridge resident, said she believes that Ms. Clark’s confinement is positive as it is allowing her to help others within the prison’s walls.

“True atonement would say, ‘Now I have found my work. I can help these girls. I can help them to find their way to the world,’” she said at the event.

Bedford resident Julie Vulpescu said at the event that Ms. Clark seems very “self-serving” in supporting her release and that the opinions of the people who believe Ms. Clark should stay in prison are equally valid.

“What supporters don’t understand is I read the article, I read her affidavit, and she doesn’t come across to me as a sympathetic character,” Ms. Vulpescu said. “There seems to be a blind spot for supporters where you don’t see what other people are reading.”

Supporters of Ms. Clark are urging members of the public to write to Gov. Cuomo asking clemency for Ms. Clark. They are also seeking donations to the Judy Clark Legal Fund, P.O. Box 544, Radio City Station, New York, NY, 10101-0544.


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