Cuomo uses final days as gov to commute, pardon 10 felons — including 3 tied to killings

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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.

Cuomo, a three-term Democrat forced to resign to avoid impeachment, said, “One of the foundational promises of New York State is that of equal justice, and equal compassion, for all under the law.”

“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.

Gov. Cuomo commuted Nehru Gumbs’ sentence on Aug. 17, 2021.
Richard Harbus

Gumbs has served 17-and-a-half years out 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.

He also granted clemency to Jon-Adrian Velasquez, 45, who was convicted of second-degree murder and attempted murder, three counts of robbery in 1999.

Velasquez has served 23-and-a-half years out 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 NYPD as an educational tool, the governor said.

Jon-Adrian Velazquez
Jon-Adrian Velazquez was granted clemency by Gov. Cuomo on Aug. 17, 2021.
Steven Hirsch

Cuomo also lessened the sentence of 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.

Chalk was the driver, not the gunman, in the murder, the governor said. He has served 33 years out 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.

These actions show that Cuomo — who said his resignation would take place 14 days after announcing his departure last week under threat of impeachment — is not leaving office quietly.

On Monday, Cuomo announced the state Health Department would require all health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes to get the coronavirus vaccine — something public health advocates said could have been mandated weeks, if not months ago.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will replace Cuomo as governor next week.

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