Sara Bennett, an attorney for convicted communist terrorist Judith Clark, is optimistic that her client will benefit from a New York Times Magazine article advocating her release from prison. “Did I think they did a good job for my client? Yes I do,” she said in a telephone interview. She said she is hoping for a meeting with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ask for clemency for Clark.
A member of the Weather Underground and its May 19 Communist Organization spin-off, Clark was involved in a terrorist assault that left Nyack, New York Police Sgt. Edward O’Grady, Patrolman Waverly Brown and Brinks guard Peter Paige dead. A website, memorial and scholarship have been created in their honor.
The Times story, “Judith Clark’s Radical Transformation,” was written by Tom Robbins, a former Village Voice writer now at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism who visited Clark in prison and apparently became smitten with her. Clark, he writes, “is a model for what’s possible in prison.”
Attorney Bennett insisted that Clark has shown “genuine remorse,” a theme of the New York Times Magazine story, which also emphasizes her attendance at Jewish services in prison.
Incredibly, the Times story confirms that Clark earned educational degrees in prison, courtesy of “tuition aid” provided by the taxpayers. These degrees are also said to be proof of her turnaround behind bars.
Today, Clark claims to be a “writer and poet” who is “working for personal and social transformation of herself and others.” The Times piece was the cover story in the magazine and showed the convicted killer to be a gray-haired old lady who wants to be free from prison to be with her daughter.
But former FBI informant Larry Grathwohl, who infiltrated the Weather Underground and knew Clark, is among those urging strong opposition to her release.
“Here’s another 60s and 70s terrorist who has found God and has changed her life,” he says sarcastically. “The New York Times article contains very little in the way of repentance and only lightly touches on the families and children of the officers killed that day. Mostly it’s a story about her and the path she chose that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and a Brinks guard.”
The assault, carried out under the name of the Revolutionary Armed Task Force, included members of the Black Liberation Army (BLA) and occurred during a Brinks truck robbery of $1.6 million on October 20, 1981. For her role, Clark was sentenced to three consecutive terms of 25 years to life, totaling 75 years in prison, for three murder convictions. She is currently in state custody at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
Grathwohl added, “Note that this was a planned action with weapons and details that were meant to net this group of terrorists a million and a half dollars. When caught she chose to play the role of the political captive and the result was a 75 year sentence. Now she and her associates expect that a Master’s degree and poetry are enough to get you out?”
But while it may seem absurd, it has to be remembered President Clinton pardoned two members of the Weather Underground, Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans, and another member, Kathy Boudin, was granted parole from New York state prison in 2003.
Evidence of Clark’s ideological change, if any, is lacking in the piece, which wonders, “Why three decades of exemplary behavior behind bars have not earned Judith Clark her freedom.” The fact is that she remains a militant lesbian who had a daughter through a “fellow militant” serving as the “surrogate father,” according to the article. A so-called red diaper baby, Clark’s father, Joe Clark, was a prominent figure in the Communist Party USA. As a child, she lived with her family in the Soviet Union for three years. There is no indication that she has renounced communism.
Homosexuality still seems to be one of the causes for which she has dedicated her life. “Governor Cuomo,” Clark says in her letter for clemency, “I have watched in awe at all that you have accomplished in your first year, from marriage equity to the new and fairer tax code. I’ve witnessed your strength and willingness to do what you believe is right. I turn to you as my only hope for release.” The reference to “marriage equity” is the homosexual marriage bill that Cuomo championed.
The pressure on Cuomo is building. “I’d love to sure get clemency from the governor of the state of New York,” Bennett said. “I’m always hopeful for my clients—that at some point there will be an appropriate review. For somebody like Judith Clark, that’s exactly what clemency is for.”
But Grathwohl counters: “I knew Judith Clark and in my opinion she is just as cold and dedicated to the overthrow of this country as Bernardine Dorhn and Bill Ayers. As Ayers said, his only regret was that they didn’t do more.”
Ayers and Dohrn largely avoided responsibility for their crimes, primarily because the Carter Justice Department indicted FBI officials and charged them with violating the civil rights of terrorists and their associates. President Reagan would later pardon the FBI officials.
Ayers and Dohrn went on to become academic activists and professors. Their association with Barack Obama when he was a community organizer and state senator from Illinois became a controversy when Obama ran for and won the presidency in 2008.
Clark has tried every possible legal maneuver to get out of jail, even having her lawyers file appeals based on inadequate legal representation when she had represented herself. The push for clemency, on the grounds that Clark has somehow changed, appears to be the latest ploy.
The effort includes a website asking people to write a letter urging Governor Cuomo to grant her clemency. Hollywood support comes from Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, and Steve Buscemi, who have performed “dramatic readings” of letters on her behalf.
But Tina Trent, an advocate for crime victims, writes that Clark’s “transformation” is “more of the usual claptrap about radical chic criminals” and that the former terrorist is another example of “talentless scum” who get “fake degrees” in order to facilitate their release from prison.
Trent says the claims of rehabilitation do not square with the evidence on Clark’s own website, where one can find still find appeals on her behalf claiming she is a political prisoner. What’s more, she adds, Clark’s published writings carefully avoid taking personal responsibility for acts of terrorism.
David Horowitz, the former communist turned conservative thinker, writer and activist, argues that if Clark were a “truly remorseful terrorist” she would expose her former comrades “and who their networks are, and what they actually did—not just what they got caught doing.” He adds, “This kind of truth-telling is an authentic form of atonement and would protect others—and particularly young radicals just starting out who may become involved in criminal ventures just as Clark did when she was young and the tragedies she caused were still in front of her.”
But Bennett said it should be sufficient that some people who are aware of her prison life believe she should be released. Bennett said, “Clemency is an executive power and it’s one that any governor has—and the president has as well—and they make the decision based on the person who is standing before them.”
Bennett did not think it would be appropriate for Clark to be forced to tell all that she possibly knows about fugitives from justice, such as Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, a convicted cop-killer who fled to Cuba after escaping from prison with the help of the Weather Underground. She killed a New Jersey State Trooper and the FBI is offering $1 million for information leading to her apprehension.
The New York Times article confirms that “Clark’s radical crew was known for plots like the 1979 prison breakout of Assata Shakur, a Black Liberation Army leader.”
Interestingly, the Times writer confirms that Clark was plotting her own escape from prison, noting that letters from Clark describing the layout and operations of one of the prisons where she was incarcerated had been found in the possession of fugitives.
Governor Cuomo can be contacted by phone (518) 474-8390 or mail:
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NY State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224