Lines Are Drawn as 60's Radical Seeks Parole for an 80's Crime
By ROBERT WORTH
Two decades after her name made headlines, Kathy Boudin's crime
still reverberates ^ as part of a killing that devastated a
Rockland County neighborhood, and as a reminder of how powerful the
fault lines of the 1960's remain.
On Wednesday, Ms. Boudin is scheduled to have a parole hearing for
the first time since the day in October 1981 when, as a former
member of the radical 1960's group the Weather Underground, she
took part in an armed robbery that left a security guard and two
police officers dead.
Ms. Boudin, in an interview last Tuesday at Bedford Hills
Correctional Facility in Westchester County, did not minimize her
crime or guilt, but she and her supporters say her case should be
judged, at least in part, on her good works in prison.
Still, many of her supporters conceded that separating her
personal journey of repentance from the bitter memories of the
killings and the radical politics that inspired them may be too
much to ask.
"This case will never shed its symbolic loading," said Todd
Gitlin, author of the 1987 book "The 60's: Years of Hope, Days of
Rage," who knew Ms. Boudin slightly in the decade's early years.
"It would take tremendous self-discipline on the parole board's
part to ignore the political aura."
On October 20, 1981, six armed gunmen from a radical group called
the Black Liberation Army, a spinoff of the Black Panthers, stole
$1.6 million in cash from a Brink's truck in Nanuet, N.Y., killing
a guard. They transferred the money to a waiting U-Haul. Ms.
Boudin, whose own group had disbanded some years earlier, was
sitting in the cab. As the truck approached the New York State
Thruway, the police stopped it, and Ms. Boudin got out and
surrendered. The gunmen then burst out of the truck and opened
fire, killing the two police officers before they were captured.
Today, her supporters say, Ms. Boudin is a different woman. During
her 20 years in prison she has helped to create several innovative
programs for AIDS victims, incarcerated mothers and inmates seeking
to take college courses. Some of those programs are now national
In part because of her work in prison, she has hundreds of
supporters, including several rabbis, ministers and priests, and a
local group that has bought advertisements in a Rockland newspaper
urging that she be released. They say that Ms. Boudin, who was not
armed and was not at the scene of the robbery, has paid her debt to
Ms. Boudin said: "I went out that day with a lot of denial. I
didn't think anything would happen; in my mind, I was going back to
pick up my child at the baby sitter's."
She said that at the time of the robbery and shootout in Nanuet,
her devotion to the political ideals that led her into the antiwar
movement of the 1960's had been warped by over a decade of
isolation. In 1970 she had gone underground, taking an assumed name
after surviving an explosion in a Greenwich Village town house
where other members of the Weather Underground had been making
"I was committed to a belief in changing the system as a way of
helping people," she recalled. "But my view of how to do that was
so divorced from people and so abstract ^ I wasn't dealing with
people on a day-to-day level."
She said several times that she felt a deep sense of regret and
shame for having participated in the robbery. And she said she had
long hoped to have a chance to apologize directly to the victims'
But those family members say that Ms. Boudin's apology ^ and the
time she has served ^ are not enough. "No matter what her role was,
she was part of a planned terrorist attack," said Michael Paige,
whose father, Peter Paige, a Brink's guard, was killed in the
robbery. "My family and the other families suffer every day for
Rockland police and many of the victims' relatives have organized
a campaign to persuade the parole board that she should never be
released. Last month, off-duty police officers fanned out in
supermarkets and malls in the county to get signatures on petitions
opposing her parole, and State Senator Thomas P. Morahan offered
his Web site for an e-mail petition. On July 13, the Rockland
County executive, C. Scott Vanderhoef, and Sheriff James F. Kralik
spoke at a rally attended by hundreds of police officers, relatives
of the victims, and others opposed to her release. Also, Gov.
George E. Pataki wrote to the relatives to express his opposition.
But at least one person who was affected by the crime disagrees
with the opposition to parole.
On the day of the crime, Norma Hill watched in horror from her car
as six gunmen burst from the back of the U-Haul and opened fire.
One then ran up to her stopped car, held his gun to her head and
yanked her from the seat. Ms. Hill, who said she was emotionally
scarred by the event, became an important witness for the
But years later, after her brother died of AIDS, she became a
volunteer at the Bedford Hills prison, where many inmates had the
disease. She did not know at first that Ms. Boudin was there. When
they began working together, Ms. Boudin did not know Ms. Hill,
having never seen her face at the trial. When Ms. Hill revealed
herself, about seven years ago, they had a long and emotional
conversation in which Ms. Boudin apologized for her role in the
crime, Ms. Hill said.
Eventually they became close friends, and now Ms. Hill goes to the
prison several times a month, sometimes bringing her granddaughter.
"Do we believe there can never be any change in a person?" Ms.
Hill asked. "Kathy has led an exemplary life in prison. If I
thought there was any possibility she would be a danger to society,
I would not be saying this."
Over the past two years, only about 5 percent of inmates convicted
of second-degree murder in New York ^ like Ms. Boudin ^ have been
paroled after their first hearing, said Thomas P. Grant, a
spokesman for the State Division of Parole. The board has received
more than 10,000 pieces of correspondence, including e-mail
messages, about the case, with about 85 percent from people opposed
Like many other supporters, Ms. Hill said opponents were spreading
an exaggerated account of the crime, damaging Ms. Boudin's chances
for early release. Ms. Boudin was convicted of first-degree robbery
and second-degree murder in the death of Peter Paige, and was
sentenced to 20 years to life behind bars. Her supporters point out
that she was never charged in the deaths of the two police
officers, who were killed after she stepped out of the U-Haul and
But several Rockland police officials and some newspaper
columnists have said that she deliberately helped murder the
officers by persuading them to put away their guns.
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