The New York Attorney General’s office is accusing Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez of abusing his power in seeking the release of a convicted murderer, claiming the DA only did so to push his political agenda.
In a scathing opposition filed in Dutchess County Supreme Court, lawyers for Attorney General Letitia James questioned Gonzalez’s motivations in writing a parole board letter of recommendation for Kenneth Hailey, 54, who’s served 31 years of a life sentence for murdering a cab driver in 1989.
“(Gonzalez’s) favorable parole recommendations are a part of his political policy to decrease what he calls mass incarceration,” the letter filed July 7 states. “His parole board recommendations are clearly tainted by political policy.”
With his advocacy for Hailey, Gonzalez undermined the state parole board, the letter charges.
“We have a close working relationship with the Attorney General and that’s why it’s evident that the Assistant AG in this case does not represent the values of her boss. We stand by our letter to the parole board,” a spokesperson for the Brooklyn DA said Monday.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said there was nothing unusual about the submission.
“The Attorney General and the District Attorney have worked in collaboration to improve the lives of New Yorkers and we are grateful for his leadership,” she said.
Hailey was convicted in June 1990 of fatally shooting a cab driver after an argument, and was sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison.
In his fifth application for release Aug. 14, 2019, he presented a positive letter of recommendation from Gonzalez’s office; data gathered by the Department of Corrections also showed he poses a low risk of reoffending.
The decision to advocate on Hailey’s behalf came after a review of his case that included an assistant district attorney traveling to Ulster County Correctional Facility to meet with him, according to the letter of recommendation.
Gonzalez wrote that an examination of Hailey’s case determined him to be honest, forthcoming and “thoughtful in his unequivocal expressions of remorse and acceptance of responsibility.”
Hailey had “presented a complete and credible narrative of his journey from a hopeless young inmate full of denial and self-loathing into a changed, compassionate man committed to positive thinking and acts of service,” the letter states.
According to Hailey’s COMPAS score, an algorithm used to determine a prisoner’s risk of reoffending based on data gathered by DOC, he poses a low risk of violence or ending back up in prison, court filings show.
But included in its reasons for denying his application for another 18 months, the parole board cited Hailey appearing “agitated” during his interview which, they wrote, reflected “an inability to handle stress that is not compatible with the welfare of society.”
The board also cited the severity of Hailey’s crime and his prison disciplinary record, though it noted the transgressions were committed early into his 31-year incarceration.
Hailey’s legal team filed to overturn the decision, but it was opposed by the AG’s office. Civil rights lawyer Ron Kuby said he hopes James will revisit the case, withdraw her opposition to another parole hearing and join DA Gonzalez in advocating for the man’s release on parole.
“Kenneth is one of those guys, and there are many, who have spent the decades that they’ve been incarcerated doing everything that they can to repent, take responsibility for a thing that they can never undo,” lawyer Rhiya Trivedi told the Daily News.
“Kenneth will be the first to admit that — that he can never take this back, but that he has examined himself and reformed himself, and he tells the board that every time he goes. And it’s never been enough, and this is another example of us wondering, what will ever be enough?”