Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced that he was pardoning or commuting the sentences of 10 prisoners – three of them individuals who were involved in murder cases.
Five were pardoned, meaning that their sentences were struck from their records. Five had their sentences commuted, meaning that they were no longer required to serve their sentences behind bars.
Cuomo’s move came with only days to spare before he steps down as governor.
He resigned on August 10, after 11 women accused him of sexual harassment. He said he would step down in 14 days – August 24.
On Tuesday the 63-year-old filed paperwork to claim his $50,000-a-year state pension.
Andrew Cuomo is seen on August 10, announcing that he was resigning. A week later he commuted or pardoned 10 people in one of his final acts
Cuomo, 63, filed for his pension on Tuesday and will claim $50,000 a year from the state
Cuomo said the ten commutations or pardons were to ‘harness the power of redemption, encourage those who have made mistakes to engage in meaningful rehabilitation, and empower everyone to work toward a better future for themselves and their families.’
He added: ‘These ten clemencies are another step on the long march towards a more fair, more just, more equitable, and more empathetic New York.’
Three of the 10 were involved in murder cases.
Nehru Gumbs, 36, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon and assault in 2005 – crimes committed when he was 18.
Jon-Adrian Velazquez, 45, was convicted of second-degree murder and attempted murder, plus three counts of robbery, in 1999.
Jon-Adrian Velazquez, whose case has for a decade been championed by Martin Sheen, has had his sentence commuted
Martin Sheen campaigned in December 2011 for Velazquez’s release from prison
Velazquez was sentenced in the shooting death of retired police officer Albert Ward at an illegal gambling hall in Harlem in 1998 – despite no DNA evidence connecting him to the crime, and conviction resting on eyewitness identification.
His case has been championed since 2011 by actor Martin Sheen.
The West Wing star learnt of the inmate’s plight from his well-connected lawyer, Robert Gottlieb.
Sheen visited Velazquez in prison, and the encounter ‘confirmed my belief that he is an innocent man,’ he told a Manhattan press conference.
‘I came away inspired. He is a young man on fire with the truth.’
The third person whose sentence Cuomo commuted was Richard ‘Lee’ Chalk, 63, who was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of robbery and two counts of burglary, and criminal possession of a weapon in 1988.
Richard Chalk’s sentence was also commuted by Cuomo on Tuesday
The five people Cuomo pardoned were all immigrants sentenced for attempted assault or robbery, or small-time drug deals decades ago. They will be allowed to remain in the U.S. on leaving prison.
‘One of the foundational promises of New York State is that of equal justice, and equal compassion, for all under the law,’ Cuomo said.
The governor, who will be replaced by Kathy Hochul, the first woman to run the state, has said he has ‘no idea’ what he will do after August 24.
He is not believed to own any property, but benefits from both his federal pension as a member of Bill Clinton’s Cabinet, serving as Housing Secretary, and from his state pension.
However, two New York politicians have proposed a bill revoking an impeached governor’s pension rights.
However, Cuomo resigned before he could be impeached, and, in any case, the bill would likely take several years to pass through the legislature.
Carl Heastie, the speaker of the Assembly, had announced on Friday that lawmakers would close their investigation of Cuomo and would no longer move to impeach him.
On Monday, after an outcry, the Assembly decided to continue with impeachment proceedings: they will produce a report, but without the power to formally impeach him and remove him from office, because he will have already stepped down.