Law professor: Clemency well-deserved for two men locked up for 1980s murder

January 03, 2019 07:38 PM

By the end of this month, two men convicted of a double murder in Albany three decades ago are expected to be released from state prison. Those men were among 29 state inmates who were recently granted clemency by Governor Andrew Cuomo. So why were those men selected?

When you stop to think that there are roughly 52,000 inmates locked-up in New York state prisons, you might wonder why Cuomo believes only 29 of them deserve clemency. You might also wonder why two men convicted of a murder in Albany were worthy of clemency.


"Their sentences on any measure were completely Draconian," said NYU Law Professor Steven Zeidman.

He has been fighting for the release of Alphonse Riley-James and Roy Bolus for more than a year.

"Roy and Alphonse were daily confronted with the very real possibility over the last 30 years that they were going to die in prison," he explained.

Back in 1988, when two men were shot execution style inside a blue, brick building at 57 First Street in Albany, Riley-James and Bolus were 18 years old.

At their murder trial that year, an eyewitness identified the triggerman as Lance Sessoms.

The jury convicted all the defendants, and everyone was sent to prison for at least 50 years.

"Both men are incredibly remorseful. They show remarkable insight about who they were, what happened -- and their contrition is genuine and real," said Zeidman.

Over the subsequent 30 years, Riley-James earned his bachelor's degree and plans to work as a paralegal.

Bolus has achieved two masters' degrees and is pursuing a PhD.

"These men have been in for over 30 years. That is a significant amount of time for two people who did not kill anybody," said Zeidman.

Zeidman says he will continue to work for the release of other inmates – believing that with 25 percent of the world's incarceration population here in the United States, this country is way out of step with other western democracies.

He also believes clemency is not only a useful tool in the criminal justice system, but a necessary one as well.


WNYT Staff

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