In the waning hours of his final day in office, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo commuted the prison sentence of one of the members of the gang behind the infamous robbery of a Brink’s armored car in 1981 that left two police officers and a guard dead, a politically motivated ambush that continues to reverberate 40 years later.
David Gilbert is serving a 75-years-to-life sentence for his role in the crime as a member of the Weather Underground, which stole $1.6 million in cash from the armored car outside the Nanuet Mall near Nyack, N.Y.
The decision does not mean he will automatically be released from prison. Mr. Gilbert will be granted a parole hearing in the weeks to come, according to Monday’s announcement.
Mr. Gilbert is the second member of the group to seek relief from Mr. Cuomo. In 2016, the governor commuted the 75-year sentence of Judith Clark, praising her “exceptional strides in self-development” as an inmate. Mr. Cuomo’s actions also granted her a parole hearing, and she was eventually released.
Mr. Cuomo cited Mr. Gilbert’s work in AIDS education and prevention while in prison, and as a teacher and law library clerk.
“He has served 40 years of a 75-year sentence, related to an incident in which he was the driver, not the murderer,” Mr. Cuomo wrote on Twitter on Monday evening.
Mr. Gilbert’s upcoming parole hearing follows a campaign for his release that included his son, Chesa Boudin, who was an infant when his mother, Kathy Boudin, and Mr. Gilbert were convicted in the attack, and who in 2019 was elected the district attorney of San Francisco. Ms. Boudin was released in 2003 after receiving a 20-year sentence as part of a plea deal, and went on to become a professor at Columbia University.
“I am overcome with emotion,” Mr. Boudin said in a statement on Monday night. “My heart is bursting, and it also aches for the families of the three victims. Although he never used a gun or intended for anyone to get hurt, my father’s crime caused unspeakable harm and devastated the lives of many separate families. I will continue to keep those families in my heart; I know they can never get their loved ones back.”
Killed in the robbery were Sgt. Edward O’Grady, Officer Waverly Brown and Peter Paige, a Brink's guard. The commutation of Mr. Gilbert’s sentence, like Ms. Clark’s before him, outraged the law enforcement community in Rockland County.
“It’s absurd,” Arthur Keenan Jr., a retired detective with the Nyack Police Department, who was wounded in the shootout, said on Monday. He said Mr. Cuomo “is stabbing all of law enforcement in the back, and when I say all, I’m talking about federal, state, local — all across the whole country — because he’s a traitor.”
In a statement, Ed Day, the Rockland County executive, said that Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, had “debased himself” and the office of the governor.
“As if victimizing 11 women, including members of his own staff, was not despicable enough, his commutation of the 75-years-to-life sentence of David Gilbert is a further assault on the people of Rockland and New York State,” said Mr. Day, a Republican. “Andrew Cuomo continues to focus on the well-being of murderers rather than the victims of these horrible offenses.”
Also among the five people whose sentences were commuted on Monday was Ulysses Boyd, 66, who was convicted of one count of second-degree murder, and of two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Mr. Boyd has served 35 years of a 50-years-to-life sentence for killing Harold Bates during an encounter at a drug house in 1986.
“Times doesn’t go by that I don’t think of Mr. Harold Bates and his family because I still got my family,” he said in a video filmed before the coronavirus outbreak. “I can still see my kids. They don’t have that choice no more.”
Mr. Boyd said he has an enlarged heart and chronic arthritis, and had pneumonia last year.
“When I wake up in the morning, I’m in pain,” Mr. Boyd said in the video. “Basically, I’m just waiting to die.”
Mr. Cuomo also commuted the sentence of Gregory Mingo, 68, who had been the subject of persistent petitions and legal and public appeals disputing his conviction in the 1980 murders of James Parker and Karen Sheets. Mr. Mingo has maintained his innocence, and his case gained notice following the protests for racial justice prompted by the death of George Floyd.
In an online petition that has accumulated 144,000 signatures, Mr. Mingo’s niece, Ava Nemes, wrote that he had been convicted on “thin allegations” that included no physical evidence, and that his defense lawyer had failed to present his alibi. Recently, the CUNY School of Law Defenders Clinic applied for clemency on his behalf.
Mr. Mingo has spent nearly 40 years in prison, and Ms. Nemes wrote that his incarceration had shaped her life.
“Uncle Greg missed my birth, but when I was four, my parents moved to Westchester, N.Y., so we could be closer to where he was imprisoned,” she said. “I’ve felt his absence in every milestone of my life since then.”
Mr. Cuomo also commuted the sentences of two other people convicted of murder, according to a news release:
Paul Clark, 59, who was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder and other charges and has served 40 years in prison;
And Robert Ehrenberg, 62, who was convicted of second-degree murder and other charges and has served 28 years in prison.
Mr. Cuomo also pardoned Lawrence Penn, who in 2015 pleaded guilty of falsifying business records.
Grace Ashford contributed reporting.
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