Hours before leaving office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday granted clemency to six people, including the driver in a fatal 1981 armored truck robbery whose release was championed by his son, San Francisco’s top prosecutor.
David Gilbert, 76, is serving a life sentence for his role in the bungled 1981 Brink’s robbery north of New York City, a bloody heist involving leftist revolutionaries that left a guard and two police officers dead.
He is among the last surviving people still imprisoned in the $1.6 million robbery often seen as a last gasp of ’60s radicalism.
Through Cuomo’s action, he will be referred to the state parole board for potential release. Under his sentence, he wouldn’t have been eligible for parole until 2056. In a news release, Cuomo’s office said that while locked up, Gilbert has made significant contributions to AIDS education and prevention programs, and worked as a tutor, law library clerk, paralegal assistant, teacher’s aide and aide in various prison programs.
Gilbert’s son, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, said his “heart is bursting, and it also aches for the families of the three victims.”
Republican Assemblymember Mike Lawler, who represents Rockland County, where the robbery happened, slammed the governor’s action.
“Andrew Cuomo’s final act as governor is a disgusting betrayal to the people of Rockland County,” he said in a statement. “This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Brink’s Robbery and rather than stand with the brave men and women in law enforcement, Andrew Cuomo has once again stabbed them in the back.”
Four men whose sentences were commuted Monday by Cuomo were in prison for murder convictions.
Cuomo also pardoned Lawrence Penn, a private equity fund manager who served two years for falsifying business records in connection with allegations he stole millions of dollars from investors.
Last week, Cuomo granted clemency to 10 people, including Jon-Adrian Velazquez, whose unsuccessful campaign for exoneration in the 1998 killing of a retired New York City police officer was championed by actor Martin Sheen.
Maybe none of those cases had the fame of the Brink’s heist.
Brink’s guard Peter Paige and Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Officer Waverly Brown of the Nyack Police Department were killed in the holdup and ensuing shootout at a nearby roadblock.
Gilbert, an unarmed getaway driver, was charged with robbery and murder since people were killed during the crime. He and two co-defendants cast themselves as freedom fighters and deemed their trial illegitimate. At one court session, Gilbert and co-defendant Judith Clark raised their fists and shouted “Free the land!”
Clark was granted parole in 2019, three years after Cuomo commuted her sentence, noting her “exceptional strides in self development.”
Gilbert’s fight for freedom gained attention as Boudin, who was just 14 months old when he went to prison, campaigned last year for San Francisco District Attorney.
Boudin ran a progressive campaign in which he said visiting his parents Kathy Boudin and Gilbert in prison showed him the criminal justice system was broken.
“On the eve of my first child’s birth, my father, David Gilbert, has been granted clemency,” Boudin said in an email to The Associated Press. “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.”
Steve Zeidman, the lawyer and law professor who spearheaded Gilbert’s clemency campaign, said he was overjoyed for Gilbert and his family.
“David has an opportunity to make his case to the board, an opportunity to live outside the prison walls,” said Zeidman, co-director of the Defenders Clinic at the City University of New York’s Law School.
The director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, Jose Saldana, celebrated the clemencies but said there are many others who deserve to be released.
“Governor Kathy Hocuhl will inherit and indefensibly racist and brutal prison system and we are hopeful that she will lead our state toward a more humane system of justice,” Saldana said in a statement.