Cuomo, Clemency & The Cop-Killer

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The New York governor’s clemency for a woman who participated in the savage ambush murder of two police officers and a security guard—victims she proudly derided as ‘pigs’—once again frames a stone criminal as a social justice revolutionary

By Mark Cromer

Whatever Gov. Andrew Cuomo was thinking about as he sat inside a small room at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women and chatted amicably and at length with Judith Alice Clark, the names of Edward O’Grady, Waverly Brown and Peter Paige apparently weren’t on the top of his mind.

Or perhaps anywhere between his ears at all, never mind his heart.

Cuomo had arrived in secret at the women’s maximum security prison last fall to meet with Clark nearly 35 years after she had participated in the shooting deaths of O’Grady and Brown, both officers of the Nyack Police Department, as well as Paige, a Brinks truck guard. All three men were gunned down during what Clark and her fellow members of the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground Organization had declared to be an ‘expropriation action.’

In other words: armed robbery.

But the self-aggrandizing revolutionary cant that had billowed like bong smoke in the late 1960s and early 1970s as flower-power wilted into the wanton street violence that marred much of the national interface where Establishment met counter-culture was still burning hot on the cold afternoon of October 20, 1981, when Clark and her compatriots in a motley crew of BLA and WUO gunmen launched their robbery during a cash delivery to the Nanuet Mall just north of New York City.

Judith Alice Clark: Member of the Weather Underground, the May 19th Communist Organization and the Black Liberation Army. And convicted cop-killer soon to be released.

According to Dan Berger’s meticulously researched and richly sourced Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and The Politics of Solidarity, the gunmen claimed they hadn’t opened fire during the robbery until Brink’s guard Paige reached for his sidearm. By police accounts, the revolutionary-posing robbers had simply ambushed Paige guns blazing, killing him and gravely wounding his partner Francis Joseph Trombino before making off with $1.6 million in cash. After making it to ‘switch cars’—a U-Haul truck and another getaway car that had been prepositioned a few miles from the robbery—the gunmen sped off with their loot once more, but a resident had spotted the spectacle of gun-toting men hurriedly shuttling bank bags from the first-stage getaway car into the U-Haul and back-up car and called the cops, who put out an all-points bulletin.

Considering the perpetual obsession in some quarters with the specter of racial-profiling motivating police stops it’s at least an interesting aside that Nyack Police officers pulled over a white couple behind the wheel of a U-Haul even though the suspects’ descriptions that crackled over the radio were to be on the lookout for black men. In fact, using white getaway drivers had been a key operational component of the robbery, as they anticipated cops would not be inclined to pull over whites while looking for black gunmen.

Unbeknownst to the officers, behind the wheel of the U-Haul was former Weather Underground member David Gilbert and his female passenger was Gilbert’s alum from the Weathermen, Kathy Boudin. Both hard-edged veteran radicals long committed to violence.

As police asked the couple to step out of the cab of truck, the BLA gunmen burst out of the back of the U-Haul and opened fire on the officers with machine guns, killing Brown and O’Grady in a hail of gunfire. Some reports state Brown, a black police officer, was executed as he lay wounded on the ground. O’Grady was reportedly killed as he frantically tried to reload his gun. As the killers and their accomplices split up, Gilbert and BLA gunman Sam Brown jumped into the Honda that Judith Clark was driving and the trio sped off but didn’t get far, as Clark lost control of the getaway car and it slammed into a tree. Boudin was captured as she attempted to flee on foot.

David Gilbert, Weathermen member and participant in the ambush murder of two police officers and a Brinks guard in October 1981 shortly after his arrest.

Two other BLA gunmen, Nathanial Burns (aka ‘Sekou Odinga’) and Samuel Smith (aka ‘Mtayari Shabaka Sundiata’) were tracked down in New York City days later, where police engaged in a long, gunfire-filled pursuit of the pair that resulted in Smith being shot dead and Burns surrendering. And BLA gunman Donald Weems (aka ‘Kuwasi Balagoon’) was also captured in a massive dragnet that saw more 1,000 federal agents descend on New York City in the days following the Brinks robbery that left two cops and a guard dead.

While Gov. Cuomo surely was aware of both the grim details and the devastating gravity of the crimes that Clark was accomplice to 35 years earlier, a thorough account of his secret meeting with her published in The New York Times earlier this month betrays the priority The Empire State’s top dog—and it had nothing to do with justice, least of all for the victims and their families.

Heralded with a front-page headline that breathlessly declared: ‘She Faced Cuomo and Got Clemency. He Got ‘a Sense of Her Soul,’ the story details Cuomo’s questions for Clark, including his immediate and almost hopeful query of her motivation to participate in the crime.

“Were you on drugs?” Cuomo asked her.

According to The Times, Clark replied simply enough “I was on politics.”

As a former member of the Weathermen faction of SDS, a co-founder of the May 19th Communist Organization and then the BLA, Clark’s estimation that she was a creature of radical Left politics is certainly a fair one if not all that revelatory and certainly not mitigating in any meaningful way.

At its essence, Clark’s explanation of her motivation to indulge the homicidal inclinations of a criminal enterprise masquerading as political revolutionaries is something of a time-honored tradition among various virulent strains of American radicalism across the fringe spectrum, stretching from the Manson Family to MOVE, from the JDL to Jonestown, from Omega 7 to The Order. By her account, Clark was simply caught up in the fervor of turbulent times and joined a cause that confronted extraordinary challenges with perhaps distasteful but necessary extraordinary measures.

Patrolman Waverly Brown and Sgt. Edward O’Grady of the Nyack Police Department. Brown was reportedly shot down and then executed while laying on the ground. O’Grady was shot to death as he attempted to reload during the firefight.

Yet Clark’s friendly hour-long private chat with Cuomo last September stands in stark contrast with her rather jubilantly defiant posture in the wake of the officers’ killings. If Clark harbored any regrets in 1981, it was that her deadly cell of terrorists didn’t successfully pull off the heist to get away with the loot after they ‘offed the pigs’ as they were so proud to put it then. Declaring herself a “political prisoner” held by an Imperialist system that had no legitimate legal authority over her—some of her accomplices in the robbery-murders aimed even higher with their hyperbole and declared themselves “prisoners of war”—Clark refused to participate in her defense at trial and was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 75 years in prison, unable to be considered for parole until 2056 at the earliest.

Brinks truck guard Peter Paige, the first man killed during the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground Organization’s ‘expropriation action.’ The killers said they shot him—with machine guns—when he reached for his pistol. Prosecutors stated the gunmen opened fire as they walked up to him. His partner, Francis Joseph Trombino, was gravely wounded in the robbery. Twenty years later, Trombino was killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, in Manhattan.

That Clark was by all accounts behind the wheel and not the trigger during the robbery-murders matters not. As Jeff Guinn describes in his exhaustively researched and rivetingly delivered Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, the legal theory of ‘vicarious liability’ that Vincent Bugliosi employed to devastating effect against the Manson Family following its Tate-LaBianca killing spree (which extended far beyond the blood-letting in Benedict Canyon and Los Feliz in August of 1969) was brought to bear by prosecutors in New York against Clark. “Each conspirator is criminally responsible for all of the crimes committed by the co-conspirators if these crimes were committed to further the object of the conspiracy,” Bugliosi explained at the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles. “This rule applies even if the conspirator was not present at the scene of the crime.”

While Clark wasn’t pulling the trigger, she was proud and eager to be at the scene of the officers killing as the Reagan Era dawned over America. Though she never fired a gun at the scene of that crime, she was nonetheless found guilty of the murder of Brown, Paige and O’Grady.

Perhaps that’s why by 2016, Clark was telling Cuomo that 35 years behind bars had granted her a vantage point from which she can now clearly see that she was, well, the victim of her own ideologically vacuum-sealed surroundings.

And for that at least she is apparently sorry, for now, well at least in publication.

“I talked to him about how I understood that the groupthink and zealotry and internalized loyalty had sapped me of my own moral compass,” Clark told The Times after her meeting with the governor had been disclosed. While Clark has not been allowed to express remorse directly to the survivors of her crimes or to the family members of the men she helped kill, including three wives and nine children, she pointed out that she did write a letter to the editor that was published in The Journal News (a suburban daily published by Gannett in Rockland County, New York) following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of the attacks, Clark learned that Brinks guard Francis Joseph Trombino, who had been shot and seriously injured during the robbery in October of 1981, was killed during the calamity in Lower Manhattan two decades later.

Clark’s letter to the newspaper stated that she dreaded any suggestion that she and her BLA and WUO cohorts were somehow fellow travelers with the suicide squads that Al Qaeda had dispatched to wreck terror on the American homeland. “But my shame and remorse do not diminish my responsibility to examine the long, knotted thread that connects my actions with the recent attacks,” Clark wrote.

It’s an interesting if belated conclusion that Clark came to, one that at least acknowledges in passing the connective tissue that joins the terror movements that emerged from the American political Left in the 1970s and ‘80s with the jihadist organizations of today whose raging ‘anti-Imperialist, anti-Colonialist’ rhetoric is an echo of the bullhorn-delivered indictments of yesteryear.

Of course, what were battle cries from the fringe of 1970 is now established academic orthodoxy administered not in direct actions but via curriculum that’s pumped across many university campuses today, with ‘offing the pigs’ artfully sanded down, polished up and presented as a less-alarming ‘confronting white privilege.’ Indeed, many of Clark’s old comrades-in-criminal-arms have returned to campus and made the classroom their battlefield of choice—easier on the old bones than being on the run underground and with the added benefit of getting paid handsomely to ideologically groom a new generation of foot soldiers. Kathy Boudin, who was also convicted in the Brinks robbery-murder, now teaches at Columbia University.

Since her conviction on three counts of murder, Clark has enjoyed binge-watching Downton Abbey with her daughter in the New York prison system’s family area.

To that end, if Clark were to accept any number of the professorial positions that are almost certain to be offered to her upon her release—and convicted cop-killers fetch a premium amongst academia these days oh so eager to feature them on faculty rosters—she will have come full-circle, arriving back to a cloistered ideological proving ground where group-think dominates and total loyalty is demanded.

It’s unlikely that fact escaped Cuomo as much as he just doesn’t care.

It’s hard to imagine that Cuomo’s decision to prepare a convicted cop-killer for release back onto the streets hasn’t electrified the Left and is producing a glow that today is not limited to its fringes. Just as ‘offing the pig’ was considered a noble or even righteous act in 1981, as the Era of Trump arrives freeing a cop-killer like Clark is likely to boost Cuomo’s bona fides among those in the Empire State that are seething over the epic reversal of fortune 2016 delivered them.

Cuomo wouldn’t have granted Clark clemency if he thought doing so would mortally wound his political ambitions, which at 59-years-old still have a lot of room to grow. The United States Senate seems the logical next chessboard move, and the one after that lands in only one place. Even as he gushed about Clark’s magnetic presence, Cuomo was calculated enough to salt his sugar with qualifications designed to cloud the coffee down the road if needed. “When you meet her, you get a sense of her soul,” he blushed to The Times. “Her honesty makes her almost transparent as a personality. She takes full responsibility. There are no excuses. There are no justifications.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said when he met secretly with cop-killer Clark in the fall of 2016 to consider her for clemency that she gave him “a glimpse of her soul.” He granted clemency with a smile.

Exactly. There aren’t any excuses or justifications for what Clark and her cronies did and three men are still dead. Their families still have emotional bullet holes shot through them, lifetime wounds that will never heal.

So what’s the governor doing making time with a convicted killer? New York is doing so well that this is a front-page priority for him? The schools, roads and health care system are just humming along rather swimmingly, are they? His schedule is that open and boring? There aren’t other convicted criminals who are behind bars in New York that are doing time for something that didn’t involve a triple-murder that might be considered a more suitable candidate for clemency? In fact, Cuomo did go on a clemency spree, but did he have to start opening the gates for Clark?

But the answer for Cuomo, of course, is ‘Yes.’

It had to be a cop-killer, as that’s what puts it on Page One of New York’s Old Gray Lady, and it had to be Judy Clark, as this is sociopolitical stagecraft and Clark has become a cause célèbre in certain Manhattan circles, including The Times newsroom where staff writer Jim Dwyer has vigorously reported on the efforts to spring Clark. By February 2016, Dwyer couldn’t conceal his frustration any longer that Clark was still doing time for a little cop killing way back when.

While Dwyer duly-if-dryly noted that the family of Clark’s victims opposed her clemency and eventual release, the staff writer made clear where his passion lay, writing that “Ms. Clark had undergone an extraordinary transformation” while in prison but decried that she would not be eligible for parole until she was 107-years-old. Laying the groundwork for what would become Cuomo’s alleged rationale a year later, Dwyer quoted attorney Michael A. Cardoza, who has worked for years to get Clark out of prison, offering perfunctory condolences to the victims’ families that were as truly empty as one might suspect, before attacking the very basis of ‘life in prison’ sentencing.

“It’s a horrible, horrible thing that this woman did,” Cardoza is quoted as saying. “You need deterrence. What does that mean? Lock them up forever? What purpose is to be served by that?”

Well, how about justice, for starters, followed by a close second of keeping society safe from someone who has already demonstrated a gleeful willingness to partake in murder multiplied by three? How about allowing the victims’ families the cold comfort of knowing that their husbands’ and fathers’ killers will not walk free ever again?

Cuomo took Cardoza’s cue and told Dwyer: “We call it the ‘correction’ system, I think the situation is corrected as it is ever going to be, unless you can bring a person back to life.” No, the ‘situation is corrected’ by keeping the convicted criminal off the streets—and punishing the offender.

But again, if Cuomo wasn’t thinking much about officers Brown and O’Grady and security guard Paige when he was secretly meeting with Clark last fall, he sure as hell wasn’t thinking of their families, of whom he has had precious little to say before or after he announced her clemency. What Cuomo did regret, he told The Times, was losing some political support from the state’s police unions and their support organizations.

While the families of Paige, O’Grady and Brown suffer anew the loss of their loved ones, some on the Left, including Cuomo and The Times, shower praise and undisguised affection upon Clark, who the newspaper giddily reported had recently enjoyed binge-watching Downton Abbey with her daughter at the prison’s family park. Clark’s daughter, by the way, lectures at Stanford University—you just knew that train wasn’t going to be late.

Clark isn’t free just yet, she still has to be granted parole by the state’s parole board, which can now hear her application for release as a result of Cuomo’s clemency. What are the odds that they will deny Clark’s release? Well, here’s a hint: Cuomo appoints the parole board members. Here’s another hint: Cuomo told The Times “I think she has a hell of a case.”

So the Ivy League still has some time to get their compensation offers together before the bidding war to put a freshly released convicted cop-killer into the classroom begins.

In the meantime it might be worth remembering the ecstatic words of Bernardine Dohrn at one of the last meetings of SDS before its most radical core splintered into The Weathermen faction and launched its violent campaign of terror to ‘bring the war home.’ Assessing the lurid details of the Tate-LaBianca murders that were national headlines in late 1969 and early 1970, Dohrn approvingly declared: “Dig it! First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into [one of] the victim’s stomach. Wild!”

The FBI’s forecast: Clark appears with cohorts Kathy Boudin, who also participated in the murder of the Nyack police officers and the Brinks guard, along with their compatriots in the Weather Underground Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Boudin, Ayers and Dohrn all later became university professors. Who’d a thunk it?!

The Weather Underground was down with the Manson Family. Not a shocker.

But what’s really ‘wild,’ as Dohrn would say, was that 25 years after applauding the Manson Family’s slaughter of ‘pigs’ she and her husband Bill Ayers, also a former Weathermen bomber who once projected that 35 million white Americans would have to be killed in order for the group to achieve its goals, would be hosting one of the first local fundraisers in Chicago for a little known political aspirant named Barack Obama. Ayers had also given up street terrorism that targeted police and American soldiers to take a faculty position at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

While Obama would come to at least publically regret what he claims was only a brief encounter with Dohrn and Ayers, of whom he insists he knew little about beyond their educational endeavors, it remains unclear whether Cuomo will come to rue the day that he secretly met with Clark, that old colleague of Dohrn and Ayers who shared their mutual hatred of ‘pigs,’ to blithely discuss her murderous mayhem that left two police officers and a security guard dead and then to proudly grant her clemency.

Or perhaps the day Clark walks free through the prison gates, free to enjoy her television binges with her daughter after robbing her victims children of their fathers forever in this world, perhaps on that day the names of Edward O’Grady, Waverly Brown and Peter Paige will arise among good people of every political persuasion in this country and then return with a vengeance to haunt Cuomo for the rest of his political life.

Judy Clark appears to have slipped free from what she deserved: life in prison.

If that happens, it’s time for New Yorkers to render judgment and pass sentence on Cuomo at the polls and throw the lever on an electoral electric chair.

And in doing so at least grant O’Grady, Paige and Brown and their families one last small whiff of justice as their high voltage outrage punishes the real pig in this latest, sordid installment of bureaucratic subterfuge, the killers’ Armani-wearing accomplice after the fact: Governor Andrew Mark Cuomo.

To wipe that big, shit-savoring grin right off his smug Albany mug.

Now that would be ‘social justice.’