[Pnews] DA seeks clemency for father, '60s radical David Gilbert
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 25 11:38:14 EST 2020
DA seeks clemency for father, '60s radical David Gilbert
Paul Grondahl - November 24, 2020
ALBANY — When Chesa Boudin was growing up, both his parents were serving
long sentences in New York state prisons for their roles in a 1981 armored
Brink’s truck robbery in Rockland County that left two Nyack police
officers and a security guard dead.
Family friend Jeff Jones brought the youngster on prison visits to see his
Boudin was raised by adoptive parents and the boy left each prison
encounter struggling to process feelings of sadness, anger and confusion
over his powerlessness to change a criminal justice system that broke his
“I had a lot of emotional issues growing up because the nature of
incarceration creates distance between family members,” conceded Boudin,
40, who was elected District Attorney of San Francisco a year ago after a
career as a public defender and champion of alternatives to incarceration.
Now, Jones, 73, of Green Island, an environmental consultant, is joining
forces with Boudin and international religious leaders including the
daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to seek mercy from the
governor. The coalition is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to grant clemency
to Boudin’s father, David Gilbert, because his age elevates the risk he
faces from COVID-19.
Gilbert is 76 years old and has been incarcerated for 39 years. He is
serving a 75-years-to-life sentence for felony murder and robbery. Gilbert
is confined at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison
in Ulster County, 80 miles south of Albany. He is one of the oldest and
longest-serving inmates among the state’s roughly 38,000 inmates. Gilbert
is not eligible for parole until 2056, when he would be 112 years old.
“I would urge Governor Cuomo to look closely at the man that David has
become and how he has demonstrated rehabilitation and remorse,” Jones said.
“It’s a waste of taxpayer money to keep him in prison after almost 40
years. He is not a threat to anyone.”
Jones and Gilbert were members of the Weather Underground, a leftist
militant group formed in 1969 to oppose the Vietnam War, fight for black
liberation and overthrow American imperialism. The FBI described them as a
domestic terrorist group. Members included Jones’ wife, Eleanor Stein, 74,
a retired administrative law judge, and Boudin’s mother, Kathy Boudin, 77,
convicted of the same charges as Gilbert and released from prison on parole
in 2003. She now works as an adjunct professor at the Columbia University
School of Social Work and is co-founder of its Center for Justice there.
Advocates for Gilbert’s clemency note there have been more than 3,400
confirmed coronavirus cases and 23 deaths among inmates and staff in the
state’s prison population, according to the state Department of Corrections
and Community Supervision. As of Nov. 20, there were 101 reported positive
cases of COVID-19 out of 353 tests among inmates at Shawangunk, including
one death. His son said his father has underlying health conditions that
put Gilbert at high risk for contracting the deadly virus.
“I’m worried my father could die of COVID-19 in prison. He has always
expressed great remorse for the victims and he has never tried to deny or
minimize the role he played in a serious crime,” Boudin said by phone from
San Francisco. “There is no compelling reason for my father to remain
As an elected prosecutor, Boudin has a unique perspective. His mother and
father were in a transfer truck waiting for the getaway car carrying the
robbers after a 1981 Brink’s heist of $1.6 million at the Nanuet Mall. His
mother, Kathy Boudin, received a sentence of 25 years to life after hiring
a lawyer, pleading guilty and accepting a plea deal, while his father, who
was not a lawyer, defended himself and went to trial.
“My father was not present in the courtroom for much of the trial and
nobody advocated for him, which is why it is a bad idea to represent
yourself,” Boudin, the prosecutor, said. “My mother and father did the
exact same thing and had identical culpability in the crime. My mother
served 22 years in prison and was paroled 17 years ago, while my father is
still in prison. It’s an example of criminal justice imbalance.”
Boudin believes his father is perhaps the only person his age who has
served as many years in state prison who was unarmed during the commission
of the crime. Another Brink’s robbery co-defendant, Weather Underground
member Judith Clark, who drove the getaway car, was granted parole in 2019
after Cuomo commuted her 75-years-to-life sentence in 2016. Prosecutors
and law enforcement bitterly opposed her parole and called it an insult to
the victims’ family members.
“My father is the last one in,” Boudin asked. “This governor already
granted clemency for Judith Clark, he’s aware of my father’s case and he’s
shown mercy previously. I am hopeful Governor Cuomo will show courage and
The Weather Underground formed on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of
Michigan in 1969, an offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS.
Gilbert and Jones were both involved in SDS efforts and met in 1967 at
Columbia University at an anti-war event. The predominantly white Weather
Underground activists allied themselves with the Black Panthers and other
radical groups. They considered violence – including a campaign of bombing
public buildings in response to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War – a
viable means to achieve their political ends.
The group took its name from Bob Dylan’s 1965 song “Subterranean
Homesick Blues” and the lyrics: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which
way the wind blows.” Jones and Stein were fugitives from justice in the
early 1970s for their involvement in the Weather Underground and raised
their son under aliases. Jones lived as John Maynard and worked as a
printer in Manhattan and his wife was Sally, a secretary. They were caught
after Jones was busted in Hoboken, N.J. for growing marijuana on the roof
of their apartment building.
Jones and Stein were not directly involved with the Brink’s robbery and
were living in an apartment in the Bronx, figuring out how to negotiate
turning themselves in, when the FBI smashed in their apartment door in 1981
and agents took Jones away at rifle-point. Their son, Thai Jones, 4 at the
time, recounted the harrowing scene in a 2004 book he published about
his parent’s leftist politics, titled “A Radical Line.” Charges were
dropped against Stein and Jones was sentenced to community service and
worked in an emergency room in a Harlem hospital and drove a school bus in
Jones and Stein led an effort in 2010 for Gov. David Paterson to grant
clemency to Gilbert near the end of his term, but failed. Since Cuomo took
office in 2011, he has reduced the number of inmates statewide by more than
30 percent and closed 15 prisons – in contrast to his father, Gov. Mario M.
Cuomo, who oversaw the largest expansion of the prison system in the
Since 2016, state prisoners submitted more than 6,500 applications for
reduced sentences to Cuomo. The governor has executive clemency powers of
commutation – shortening the sentence to allow for an earlier parole
hearing or immediate release. Cuomo has granted clemency to 104 individuals
in nine years, compared to Gov. Hugh Carey’s 155 in eight years and Gov.
Mario Cuomo’s 37 in 12 years.
“I would urge Governor Cuomo to listen to a son’s emotional appeal and
grant clemency to David Gilbert,” Stein said.
*Paul Grondahl is director of the New York State Writers Institute at the
University at Albany and a former Times Union reporter. He can be reached
at grondahlpaul at gmail.com <http://gmail.com>*
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