Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eugenia's story

This post is an attempt to provide more detail concerning the unfortunate events that have resulted in an unconscionably lengthy prison sentence for a woman who is no threat to anyone.

Eugenia's Background

Eugenia was born on December 22, 1960, in Morelos, Mexico.  She grew up in poor living conditions and came to New York City in 1979.  A relationship in the 1980's produced Eugenia's two daughters, Yesenia and Stephanie.  In the 1990's, Eugenia entered another realtionship, had a son, Jonathan, and got married.  Eugenia was employed by the Etna Home Attendant Corporation and she cared for her young son and daughters. 

The Crimes

In October 1999, Eugenia’s husband abandoned her, their young son, and Ms. Pedraza’s two daughters from a prior relationship.  At the same time, the family's savings went missing, and Eugenia assumed (and still assumes) it had been taken by her departing husband.

Angered by the situation, Eugenia’s step-father, Sarafin Rodriguez, set about to find the husband and the missing money.  While the husband was missing, his sister lived in the area, and the step-father planned and executed a scheme, along with two accomplices, to use the husband's sister to find the husband.  The sister was abducted on a Bronx street, taken captive in an abandoned (or nearly abandoned) building, subjected to physical and verbal abuse, and narrowly escaped a fire at the site of her captivity that may have been started intentionally.  The three men were subsequently arrested and charged.  They pled guilty and served jail terms ranging from five to ten years.

Eugenia did not plan or execute these crimes.  She had been told by her step-father that he would "take care of it" and that it would be "better if you don't know what I am planning."  She is remorseful for having had any involvement or connection to the terrible ordeal her former sister-in-law endured.

The Arrest and Conviction of Eugenia

The abduction of Eugenia's sister-in-law occurred on December 29, 1999.  At about 1:00 a.m. in the morning on December 30, 1999, after relatives had reported the victim missing, police arrived at the home of Eugenia and took her to the police station.  She was held overnight, without food, water or sleep, and she was repeatedly questioned.  She was not told that she could see an attorney, nor that she had a right, as a Mexican national, to contact the Mexican Consulate. 

In the morning, the victim manged to escape her captivity -- and a fire in the building where she was being held -- and was located by police.  Back at the police station, officers continued questioning Eugenia, still without advising her of her rights.  Police allege that Eugenia told them that her step-father had conceived the crime, but that she had been present at the scene of the initial abduction.  The questioning was conducted in Spanish, Eugenia’s native language, but was memorialized in a written statement prepared by the questioning police officer in English.  Eugenia could not read English at the time but, having been told that she needed to sign the statement if she wanted to see her son, she did so.

Subsequently, the Grand Jury indicted Eugenia of kidnapping in the first degree (Penal Law § 135.25[2][a]), attempted murder in the second degree (Penal Law § 110.00/125.25[1]), and arson in the second degree (Penal Law § 150.15).  Prior to trial, she was offered a plea bargain and a three-year prison sentence, but she declined.

At trial, several police officers testified as to the investigation and the questioning of Eugenia, and the written statement was entered into evidence.  A Fire Marshall testified that the fire may or may not have been intentionally set (although, indisputably, Eugenia was in police custody at the time of the fire).

The victim (Eugenia's sister-in-law) also testified.  Given the nature of her ordeal, it is understandable that the victim's recollection and testimony were both inconsistent.  She stated at different times that she did and did not see Eugenia sitting in a van at the time of her abduction.  She attempted to place Eugenia as having been present at times during her captivity, but also insited that Eugenia had been there just before the fire when, in fact, it is clear that Eugenia was in police custody at that time. 

In a remarkable stunt, Eugenia's husband showed up at trial to testify, despite the fact that the prosecution somehow "forgot" to put him on their witness list.  He offered nothing directly connecting Eugenia to the crimes charged and, instead, was permitted to testify about his complaints concerning the marriage and their sexual relations.

Despite relatively thin evidence, the jury found Eugenia guilty.  A pre-sentence report prepared by Consultants for Criminal Justice Alternatives F.E.G.S./C.C.J.A. in 2000 recommended that Eugenia be sentenced to five years of probation, with special condition that she participate in an outpatient mental health treatment program.  Disregarding the report, the Court sentenced Eugenia to 33 years to life in prison.

On her initial appeal, the sentence was reduced to 23 years to life.  People v. Pedraza, 25 A.D.3d 394, 395, 808 N.Y.S.2d 58, 59 (1st Dep’t), leave den., 7 N.Y.3d 760, 853 N.E.2d 257 (2006).  Justice Tom – one of the five judges who heard the appeal – dissented in part, finding the reduced sentence “both grossly disproportionate to the punishment given to her accomplices [none of whom received a sentence in excess of 10 years] and irreconcilable with recent rulings by this Court.”  Id. At 396, 808 N.Y.S.2d at 60.  Justice Tom noted that there was a “lack of credible evidence personally connecting defendant to the acts comprising arson and attempted murder” to justify what was essentially a “life sentence.”  Id.  Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal further.  People v. Pedraza, 7 N.Y.3d 760, 853 N.E.2d 257 (2006).

Application for Clemency

We have pursued additional post-conviction remedies in the State and Federal courts, without success, and the potential judicial remedies have now been exhausted.  Thus, Eugenia has applied to the Governor of the State of New York for clemency, in the hopes that her sentence will be commuted to the 12 years she has now served.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Application for Clemency

We are asking the Governor of the State of New York to grant clemency to Eugenia Pedraza, a 50 year-old mother of three who has served more than half of a 23-year prison sentence.

This blog is intended to let people know about Eugenia and why it makes no sense to continue her incarceration.  In short:
  • Eugenia has an exemplary record at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.  She has lived on the Honor Floor  for many years, and has worked to be of service and to improve herself.
  • Eugenia was convicted for crimes stemming from a domestic dispute with her ex-husband.  There is no discernable risk of recidivism.
  • The illegal acts were committed by Eugenia’s step-father and two male accomplices.  Eugenia was tried on an “accomplice” theory.
  • Eugenia should not have been convicted in the first place.  She was interrogated without timely Miranda warnings and without being told she could consult with the Mexican Consulate.  She was questioned in Spanish, but compelled to sign a written statement in English, which she could not read at the time.  This "evidence" improperly was used at trial.
  • The length of the sentence is excessive under the circumstances.  She was offered a plea deal of 3 years in prision.  Her pre-sentence review recommended 5 years of probation, along with mental health treatment.  The step-father and his accomplices have already served their time and have been released.  Yet she is serving 23 years to life.
  • Eugenia is remorseful and earnest, and she has a supportive family awaiting her release.  Commutation of her sentence would assist the rehabilitation process.
We will say more about all of this as we go.  Whatever one might think about the underlying circumstances and the fairness of her conviction, no purpose can be served by Eugenia's continued incarceration.  We urge the Governor to give this matter a thorough review and to commute the remainder of Eugenia's sentence.