Days after giving two weeks’ notice that he would resign his office amid a serial sexual harassment scandal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using the unprecedented lame-duck period to grant clemency and pardons to 10 felons — including three convicts tied to killings.
“Today I’m proud to help fulfill government’s unique responsibility 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.”
Cuomo commuted the sentence of Nehru Gumbs, 36, who was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon and assault in 2005 — crimes committed when he was 18.
Gumbs was fingered for the brutal shooting death of an innocent bystander heading to his Canarsie home from a midnight church service on New Year’s Eve 2004.
Gumbs has served 17½ years of a 25-year sentence. He has served as the youth counselor at Sing Sing prison and earned an associate’s degree from Mercy College and is pursuing a job as a plumber.
Cuomo also granted clemency to Jon-Adrian Velasquez, 45, who was convicted of second-degree murder, attempted murder and three counts of robbery in 1999.
Velazquez was sentenced in the shooting death of retired police officer Albert Ward at an illegal gambling hall in Harlem in 1998.
Velazquez claimed he was wrongfully convicted.
His plea to have his conviction overturned was championed by actor Martin Sheen, who had met with him in prison and appeared at press conferences on his behalf.
Velasquez has served 23½ years of a 25-year-to-life sentence.
After entering the prison system, he enrolled in a college program through Hudson Link and earned an associate’s degree in 2012 and a bachelor’s degree in 2014, graduating with honors from both programs. He works as a teaching fellow for a Columbia University professor.
Velazquez also helped establish “Voices From Within,” an educational initiative combating gun violence through the voices of convicts. The program has been used by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the Department of Probation and the NYPD as an educational tool, the governor said.
Cuomo also lessened the sentence of Richard “Lee” Chalk, 63, who was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of robbery, two counts of burglary and criminal possession of a weapon in 1988.
Chalk was the driver, not the gunman, in the murder, the governor said. He has served 33 years of a 50-years-to-life sentence.
While in custody, Chalk has earned training certificates in various fields, including legal research, food service, sighted guide training, and the Fatherhood & Family Law Program. He has also volunteered with Project Care and the American Cancer Society.
The five pardons Cuomo granted will allow felons to remain in the United States instead of being deported because of their immigration status.
For example, Ivelisse Castillo, 60, was convicted of attempted criminal possession of an illicit drug in 2001. Castillo has remained crime-free for 19 years and volunteers at a local community garden and nursing home.
Critics were outraged that Cuomo is letting criminals loose when he should no longer be in office because of his own misconduct.
“It would have been nice of Governor Cuomo to grant clemency to over 15,000 seniors and the developmentally disabled who suffered and died of COVID for the simple crime of being elderly and vulnerable,” said Vivian Zayas, co-founder of VoicesForSeniors.