ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York granted clemency to 13 individuals Wednesday, including two prisoners serving murder sentences and a domestic violence survivor sentenced for manslaughter in the death of her abuser.
All told Ms. Hochul issued nine pardons and four commutations of prison sentences.
The two inmates whose murder sentences were commuted will have to wait for action by the State Parole Board to be freed. Jacqueline Smalls, who was serving a 15-year sentence after stabbing her abuser in the chest will be promptly released, according to the governor’s office.
The announcement adheres to a tradition of New York governors using their power to grant clemency during the holiday season. Governors have vast power to cut prison sentences short and pardon those who have been convicted of crimes.
“Clemency is a powerful tool that can be exercised to advance the interests of justice and fairness, and to recognize efforts made by individuals to improve not only their own lives but the lives of those around them,” Ms. Hochul said. “These grants of clemency serve not only to acknowledge the steps these individuals have taken to rehabilitate themselves, but to remind others that such change is possible and that nobody should be defined by their worst mistake.”
Ms. Hochul came under fire from criminal justice activists last year, a few months after taking the reins from disgraced former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, for granting a single prison commutation on Christmas Eve. She also pardoned nine individuals who completed their sentences, all immigrants facing deportation issues.
Since taking office Ms. Hochul has adopted reforms to increase transparency in the clemency process and has tapped six experts to serve on a Clemency Advisory Panel. After her actions Wednesday, she has 857 applications for commutations and 441 requests for pardons pending, the governor’s office said.
Steven Zeidman, who as director of the Second Look Project at the City University of New York School of Law supports the use of more aggressive clemency powers by governors, said he’d prefer to see more commutations, but he applauded Ms. Hochul for the ones she issued.
“Politically, these are not easy decisions to make,” Mr. Zeidman said. “I think she deserves a great deal of credit.”
Mr. Zeidman worked on two cases that appeared on Ms. Hochul’s list, both of them involving prisoners serving long sentences for murder who had become model inmates while incarcerated.
One is Bruce Bryant, who has served more than 30 years of a 37.5-year-to-life sentence for the murder of 11-year-old Travis Lilley, killed by a stray bullet that Mr. Bryant said he never fired. Another is Stanley Bellamy, who has served more than 37 years of a 62.5-year-to-life sentence on murder charges stemming from a botched gun sale in Queens in 1985.
Had Ms. Hochul not intervened, Mr. Bellamy would have been 85 before becoming eligible for parole, a fate Mr. Zeidman equated to a “death in prison sentence.”
Ms. Hochul’s commutations mean the two men will be eligible for parole, but the New York State Board of Parole must decide if they will ultimately be released from prison.
Ms. Hochul also commuted the sentence of Anthony Evans, who has served almost 19 years of a 22-year-to-life sentence for burglary and can expect prompt release.
Advocates for victims of domestic violence had been urging a commutation for Ms. Smalls, who has served more than 10 years of her sentence. She was convicted of manslaughter for stabbing her abuser after he entered her home despite two orders of protection pending against him, according to the governor’s office.
“We are incredibly grateful to Governor Hochul for her longstanding commitment to domestic violence survivors,” said Dara Sheinfeld, head of pro bono litigation at Davis Polk, who assisted Ms. Small’s legal team. “This grant is a recognition that, for domestic violence survivors, criminal conduct is often inextricably interwoven with their histories of abuse and trauma.”
Pardons are generally granted to individuals convicted of crimes after they have completed all court-imposed requirements, according to the governor’s office. Among the nine people Ms. Hochul pardoned Wednesday — all facing deportation proceedings — was Lesly Parfait, 52, a Haitian immigrant who was convicted of third-degree robbery in 2005. He faced mandatory deportation next year, his lawyers at the Legal Aid Society of New York said.
When told of his pardon, Mr. Parfait, a permanent legal resident who was just 5 years old when he came to the United States in 1975, said “I feel like dancing,” said Ted Hausman, a supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society. He said Mr. Parfait lives in Queens and has six children and seven grandchildren.
“This pardon means the world to Mr. Parfait,” Mr. Hausman said. “It means that he’s not going to get torn away from his large family.”