Friday turned out to be the day some New York State prisoners saw their dreams come true in the form of mercy from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The governor used his executive clemency powers to commute the sentences of two convicted criminals, and grant pardons to nine others.
"In New York we believe in equal opportunity for all, and these actions will give this group of deserving New Yorkers who have proven their remorse and undergone successful rehabilitation a second chance," Cuomo said. " By giving these individuals a second chance to provide for their families and give back to their communities, we are taking another step toward a more fair and a more compassionate New York."
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Sources advocating on behalf of prisoners told the I-Team they had been briefed by the governor’s office Thursday night on a plan to announce clemency grants Friday for prisoners who have demonstrated rehabilitation and remorse and whose crimes involved “extenuating circumstances.”
The two individuals who had their sentences commuted were 42-year-old Monica Szlekovics and 32-year-old Ryan Brice.
Szlekovics was convicted of second-degree murder in Monroe County in 1996, according to a release by the governor. She was abused by a number of men throughout her life, including her husband who actually killed the victim and forced her to participate in the offenses. After completing a college degree, Szlekovics has participated in domestic violence classes, worked in the college program and volunteered in the parenting center. The Monroe County DA at the time of her conviction supported commuting her sentence, the press release read.
Brice was convicted in 2014 on weapons and other related charges after turning to crime to make money when his family lost their home and possessions due to flooding from Hurricane Irene, according to Cuomo's release. Brice, who was sentenced as violent offender despite not engaging in violent acts, earned his GED while also completing anger management and vocational training behind bars.
Those who received pardons include Alexander Levin, David Lugo, Renata Smith, Kwame Siriboe, Indira Ozuna, Elvin Pinto Martinez, Adewale Ogunbowale, Claudio Hoyos and Alejandro Molinet Vega.
Still, not everyone was thrilled with the small number of commutations, especially after not granting a single one in all of 2019. One group called it "outrageous" that Cuomo did not exercise his clemency powers more liberally.
"Justice for one or two individuals isn’t enough. We call on Governor Cuomo to use his executive power in 2020 by commuting the long and life sentences of thousands of people in prison who are so desperately ready and fully qualified to be free and back with their families," read a statement from Dave George, the associate director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign.
The move comes after Gov. Cuomo had been facing pressure from criminal justice reformers to commute more sentences.
In November, the I-Team reported that Cuomo had been ignoring more than 100 clemency applications filed under a program he created in 2017, allegedly to give inmates a better shot at a second chance by connecting them with pro bono lawyers.