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Ulysses Boyd, 64, wants the gift of freedom from Gov. Andrew Cuomo this holiday season.
Boyd was 32 when he was convicted of the felony murder of Harold Bates during a drug dispute in a Harlem basement on April 26, 1986.
He was sentenced to 50 years to life for the crime and won’t be eligible for a parole hearing until December 2035 when he’ll be 80.
Boyd and his supporters fear he won’t make it that long.
He suffers from severe arthritis and has an enlarged heart, according to his lawyer, Steve Zeidman. Earlier this year, Boyd was hospitalized with pneumonia.
‘Who Does It Serve?’
Boyd’s backers contend that over the past 31 years he has transformed himself, noting he acted as a mentor to young prisoners, cared for sick prisoners and assisted in the law library.
“Who does it serve to keep him locked up?” asked Zeidman, who filed a clemency application on Boyd’s behalf in 2018.
Boyd’s application for a reduced sentence is among at least 6,489 submitted since 2016 after the governor announced his administration would take a more merciful approach to handling such requests, THE CITY reported in August.
But Cuomo hasn’t granted a single commutation this year — after promising to do clemencies on a rolling quarterly basis in 2015.
“His record is abysmal,” said Jose Saldana, 66, director of Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP). “It says something about him. He’s not representing people in our communities.”
A Cuomo representative defended the governor’s record.
Spokesperson Caitlin Girouard noted the governor granted 42 clemencies last year and 11 pardons this year.
“As you know, clemencies are traditionally granted at the end of the year and that process is ongoing, but it’s obvious you just want to write your story before then,” she told THE CITY.
Cuomo has granted many of his pardons to people who have finished their prison sentences and are now facing deportation.
Frustrated by the absence of clemencies this year, RAPP has urged the state Legislature to pass a measure that would automatically grant parole hearings to all prisoners when they turn 55, if they have served 15 years or more.
If passed, thousands of prisons, like Boyd, would have a chance at freedom. The measure failed to garner enough support last legislative session.
Studies have shown elderly people rarely commit violent crimes after they are released. The odds of a person committing a murder drops significantly beginning at about age 40, according to crimonlogists. People 75 years or older are responsible for about 0.5% of murders annually across the country.
State of Contrast
Activists point to clemencies granted by governors in some other states.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Sitt, a Republican, commuted the sentences of 462 non-violent prisoners on Nov. 4, the largest single-day commutation in United States history.
Earlier this month, Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf commuted life sentences of eight people, which would bring him to a total of 72 clemencies this year, according to the state’s Board of Pardons.
And outgoing Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, did the same for 419 prisoners, including some convicted of violent crimes.
In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, commmuted the sentences of 21 people convicted of murder or attempted murder. Newsom has given clemency 45 people so far this year, according to his office.
Girouard pointed to “unprecedented” criminal justice reforms under Cuomo’s administration.
“Comparing our record to the far worse incarceration, pardon and clemency records of other states is absurd — as is focusing on just the end of the incarceration process,” Girouard said.
“This administration is constantly working to keep people from serving unjust sentences and — from Raise the Age, closing nearly 30 prisons and juvenile facilities, to decriminalizing and sealing marijuana offenses and giving parolees back their voting rights — we’ve made unprecedented reforms to make our system fairer and more just,” she added.
From Abuse to Hustling to Murder
Boyd was raised by his grandparents and described his younger self as a “model student.” But that all changed when they moved from Harlem to Stanford, Florida, to live with his parents.
“My [eight] siblings and I really felt neglected in an assortment of ways,” he said in his clemency application. His mom failed to make meals for the family and let the kids skip school. She partied hard on the weekends, he said.
Boyd’s father was a long-distance truck driver who was away from the family for long stretches. During his brief stints at home, Boyd says he’d physically abuse his mother and him.
When Boyd was 11, his mother began to receive public assistance. But it was not enough.
“I had to wear clothes that were too small for my growing frame and play in sneakers with holes on the bottoms or sides,” Boyd said.
By the time he turned 13, he was on the streets of Harlem “hustling” to make money to support his siblings and using heroin “as a form of amusement,” according to his clemency application.
In high school, he sold marijuana and ran numbers at a neighborhood gambling spot to make money. He later moved onto selling heroin and later crack after his family’s apartment burned down.
In April 1986, Boyd ordered Harold Bates, 24, to leave a crack house, according to a New York Times report.
Bates wasn’t moving fast enough for them, so Boyd and two associates forced him to the ground, a witness testified at the criminal trial. They hit him with handguns and a brick, the witness said.
Boyd then ordered his buddies to “bust him,” according to testimony at the trial. Bates was fatally shot six times.
One of Boyd’s associates was acquitted. The other was sentenced to 18 years to life and was paroled in 2006.
THE CITY was unable to reach any of Bates’ family members. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to comment when asked if it has taken a stance on Boyd’s clemency application.
Now at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, Boyd earned his GED in prison and has given guidance to younger prisoners, according to his clemency application. It also noted he has also cared for sick and dying prisoners, and led aggression replacement trainings.
Zeidman, his lawyer, hopes that Cuomo takes mercy.
A friend of Zeidman’s working on the clemency application produced a short movie describing Boyd’s story.
“He’s beginning to fall apart,” Zeidman said. “He’s not up for parole until 2035. He asked me if I think he’ll make it that long.”
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