[Pnews] No good is served by David Gilbert's continued incarceration

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Dec 11 11:40:35 EST 2019


  No good is served by David Gilbert's continued incarceration

By Cynthia Grant Bowman - December 9, 2019

Chesa Boudin was recently elected district attorney in San Francisco. 
His promise of a new approach to criminal justice grounded in fairness 
appealed to voters more than his opponents' law-and-order model, which 
has failed citizens throughout the country. When he received the news, 
Boudin was visiting his father in an upstate New York prison.

His father, David Gilbert, has been imprisoned for 38 years; he is 75 
years old. The fact that he is still behind bars is a disgrace to the 
criminal justice system in New York.

Gilbert was sentenced to 75 years to life under New York's felony murder 
law, which holds anyone involved in a felony responsible for any death 
that results from it, even though they did not kill anyone, fire any 
shots, possess a weapon, or have any intention, or even expectation, 
that anyone would be killed. Gilbert and other former members of the 
Weather Underground served as getaway drivers for a botched robbery by 
the Black Liberation Army, a group formed in the wake of the murders of 
numerous black activists, such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., 
Mark Clark and Fred Hampton. A Brink's armored car guard and two Nyack 
police officers were killed. Gilbert was unarmed and not involved in the 

The felony murder doctrine is unique to the United States. It rips apart 
the traditional connection to responsibility and intent in our theories 
of criminal punishment. England abolished felony murder in 1957; Ireland 
and India have abolished it as well. Felony murder was declared 
unconstitutional by the courts in Canada in 1990, and several U.S. 
states have moved to abolish the doctrine, either by legislation or in 
judicial holdings. When one tells foreign legal scholars about felony 
murder, they are shocked.

When Gilbert was incarcerated, his son Chesa Boudin was an infant. While 
in prison, Gilbert managed, with the help of New York's enlightened 
system of trailer visits with immediate family, to help parent Boudin. 
He imparted to his son both his love for the child and his social 
justice values, which include the preciousness of life and the errors in 
his own earlier political vision. Boudin's devotion to public service is 
no doubt influenced by what he learned from his father.

While remaining free of disciplinary violations for 38 years, Gilbert 
also co-founded a trailblazing program of AIDS education in prison, 
tutored countless other prisoners, and facilitated anti-violence programs.

Like so many other aging prisoners in the New York system, his health is 
declining. It makes little sense to continue to imprison older people 
who have served lengthy terms, pose no threat to the public, acknowledge 
and accept responsibility for the harms they caused, and require costly 
medical care for which the state must pay.

We are law professors who have spent time visiting Gilbert in prison — 
one of us five or six times a year over the past five years. Many other 
names could be added to ours as well. Everyone who meets Gilbert is 
impressed by his deep thoughtfulness, compassion and profound remorse 
for his role in the tragic deaths of three people — and for the pain 
their families have suffered. He listens to visitors intently and helps 
them think through their problems, whether personal, political or 
intellectual. One such visitor describes him in a letter as "a kind and 
peace-loving person, concerned about the well-being of those around him, 
interested in my own personal and professional responsibilities, and 
deeply remorseful for his participation in the Brinks Robbery."

Gilbert has paid a heavy price for his crime. We believe that it is past 
time for him to be released from prison. We are absolutely certain that 
granting him clemency would present no danger to society. Rather, he 
would contribute his many talents to his family, friends and the 
community at large, and his release would send a message of hope to the 
many elders serving lengthy sentences across New York.

    More Information

/Cynthia Grant Bowman is the Dorothea S. Clarke Professor of Law at 
Cornell Law School. Also contributing to this were Cornell law 
professors Aziz Rana and Beth Lyon. /

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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