One-time radical activist Judith Clark, imprisoned for 38 years as the getaway driver in a botched 1981 armored car heist where two police officers and a security guard were gunned down, was paroled Wednesday in a decision both lauded and reviled.
A divided Parole Board voted 2-1 to Clark, who turns 70 later this year and could walk free on May 15 “or earlier” depending on state approval, processing and her post-release plans.
“I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped take care of my mother and me ... and who has helped to bring my mother home,” said her daughter Harriet Clark, who was just 11 months old when her mother was arrested while fleeing the scene of the $1.6 million robbery and triple homicide.
Clark, the second-longest incarcerated woman in New York state and former acolyte of the Weather Underground, lost her first bid for parole two years ago after Gov. Cuomo commuted her sentence to make her eligible for parole.
“I look at the world differently now,” Clark wrote in a letter to Cuomo. “Instead of abstract slogans, I am moved by flesh-and-blood people.”
She was convicted in the Oct. 20, 1981, murders of Nyack Police Sgt. Edward O’Grady, Nyack Police Officer Waverly “Chipper” Brown and Brinks security guard Peter Paige during the $1.6 million armored car robbery at the Nanuet mall in Rockland County.
Clark earned her master’s degree behind bars, trained service dogs, founded an AIDS education program and counseled mothers, eventually becoming a cause célèbre as more than 2,000 people provided statements of support for her release. Another letter signed by more than 70 elected officials called for parole officials to focus more on her rehabilitation than her crimes.
Among her supporters was Mayor de Blasio, who noted that Clark “has atoned for and taken full responsibility for her part in the heinous crime ... Her rehabilitation and release should be a model for detainees to strive to emulate.”
Despite her incarceration and rehabilitation, Clark’s parole drew instant outrage from law enforcement officials and members of the victims’ families.
“My entire family is outraged by this decision," fumed Michael Paige, 54, who practices law in Sayreville, N.J., and said he will never get over the murder of his father Peter, the security guard. “Judith Clark should never see the light of day. She should remain in prison for the rest of her life,” he said.
“Judith Clark is a murderer and a terrorist,” said Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch. “Because of her actions, three families have been permanently deprived of husbands, father and sons. Those families cannot escape their loss, but Judith Clark will be allowed to escape accountability for her crimes. That is not justice.”
Clark’s radicalism dated to her early teens, starting with her opposition to the war in Vietnam and leading her to the violent revolutionaries in the Weather Underground and a radical offshoot dubbed the May 19 Communist Organization.
The robbery in New York City’s northern suburbs was intended as a fund-raiser for the radicals, but soon went haywire with three men left dead in the wake of the heist. A remorseless Clark was arrested a short time later and represented herself at trial. Clark would later apologize for her crimes and express her “sorrow, shame and regret” for her part in the killings.
She was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison for her conviction on three counts of second-degree murder.
Dissenting Parole Board member William Smith Jr. invoked the slain trio in his scathing opinion.
“In time, the thousands of written comments in opposition and in favor of your release will be put in storage,” he wrote. “Media coverage will lessen. What will not diminish is the loss felt by the loved ones of (the dead). The sounds of their weeping will remain.”
With John Annese