By David M. Greenwald
Albany, NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo, in the midst of sexual harassment allegations that had been found to be confirmed by an independent investigation, stepped down effective late Monday. In his final act, though, he commuted the sentences of six people including David Gilbert—the former Weather Underground activist who has spent more than 40 years in prison for a bank robbery gone bad.
Gilbert received 75 years (given his age at the time, effectively life without parole) for his role in that bank robbery in 1981 that resulted in $1.6 stolen from an armored car near Nyack, NY. The robbery left two police officers and a guard dead, although Gilbert was not directly involved in the shootings.
As Governor Cuomo put in a tweet on Monday, “He has served 40 years of a 75-year sentence, related to an incident in which he was the driver, not the murderer.”
Gilbert is the father of San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, who was an infant when his mother, Kathy Boudin, and Gilbert were convicted in the attack. Kathy Boudin was released in 2003 after receiving a 20-year sentence as part of a plea deal and has become a professor at Columbia University.
“I am overcome with emotion,” Boudin tweeted on Monday. “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.”
Gilbert will not immediately be released. He is now eligible for parole for the first time at age 76.
“The march towards a more fair, more just, more equitable, and more empathetic New York State is a long one, but every step forward we can take it worthwhile and important,” Governor Cuomo said in perhaps his last statement and formal action as governor.
He added, “These clemencies make clear the power of redemption, encourage those who have made mistakes to engage in meaningful rehabilitation, and show New Yorkers that we can work toward a better future. I thank all the volunteer attorneys representing clemency applicants for their dedication and service to justice.”
His commutation message noted, “While incarcerated, Mr. Gilbert has made significant contributions to AIDS education and prevention programs; he has also worked as a student tutor, law library clerk, paralegal assistant, a teacher’s aide, and an aide for various additional facility programs.”
The statement continued: “At this time, Mr. Gilbert is the only individual still incarcerated, with no possibility of parole in his lifetime. He will be referred to the Parole Board for potential release.”
The commutation celebrated by many in the justice reform community who have fought against felony murder for those who were not the actual killer, was attacked by the law enforcement community.
“It’s absurd,” Arthur Keenan, Jr., a retired detective with the Nyack Police Department, who was wounded in the shootout, said on Monday as reported in the New York Times.
Cuomo, he said, “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.”
Ed Day, the Rockland County executive, said that Cuomo 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 Day. “Andrew Cuomo continues to focus on the well-being of murderers rather than the victims of these horrible offenses.”
But for many others, the commutation was justice. Gilbert, now 76, has spent most of his life in prison, had a key role in the robbery but not the shootout that left people dead, and has had a good record while incarcerated. Now it will be up to a parole board to determine whether he is released.