End The Injustice -- Free Lawrence Hayes Now!

By: Alex Lesman

The effort to free imprisoned Campaign member Lawrence Hayes took a dramatic turn in August with the conviction of two New York state parole officials connected to Lawrence's case.

The two were convicted for lying under oath during a federal probe into influence-peddling by the governor's office and the chair of the parole board.

One of the officials, who pleaded guilty, testified that parole board chairman Brion Travis was involved in attempts by Gov. George Pataki's office to grant early parole to the son of a donor to the governor's 1998 campaign. The other official convicted in the scheme, Sean McSherry, also intervened in Lawrence Hayes's parole revocation hearing, which resulted in Hayes being sent back to prison with a sentence of five years to life.

In 1971, Lawrence was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer, despite the fact that he neither possessed nor fired a weapon in the incident. His sentence was commuted to 20 years to life in 1972. After his parole, he served as a youth counselor and community activist in his Brooklyn neighborhood.

Hayes's parole was revoked in April 1998, just days after he participated in a news conference in Brooklyn to speak out against the death penalty in the case of Darrell Harris. Despite his spotless parole record, Hayes was accused of missing more than 30 meetings with his supervising officer. At the parole revocation hearing in August 1998, McSherry, who was otherwise not involved in the case, introduced a victim impact statement from Hayes's original trial. Such statements are generally considered inappropriate in parole revocation hearings, but the judge allowed it nonetheless.

Hayes appealed his five-year sentence with the help of Campaign member and Columbia Law School student Alex Roth and Roth's professor, Philip Genty. On August 12, in the midst of the influence-peddling scandal, the parole board responded to the appeal by reducing Hayes's minimum sentence to two years.

Seeking full vindication for Hayes, Roth and Genty filed a petition in September with the New York State Supreme Court, asking that Lawrence be released immediately on the grounds that there was no justification for his parole violation and that McSherry's involvement tainted his hearing. Roth said that while they prepare for a hearing on the petition, he and Genty hope to convince Attorney General Elliott Spitzer to drop the state's opposition to Hayes's release.

Meanwhile, the Campaign continues its efforts to free Lawrence Hayes. To urge the Attorney General to end the injustice in Hayes's case, write to: Elliott Spitzer, Attorney General, Department of Law, Executive Offices, State Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12234-0341.