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Governor grants clemency for Far Rockaway woman

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Linda White of Far Rockaway, along with three other New Yorkers, was granted clemency by Gov. George Pataki on Christmas Eve.

White is now only the second convicted murderer in New York to ever receive this reprieve. Both recipients were victims of domestic abuse. Charline Brundidge was the first in 1996.

White, 55, was sentenced for murder in Queens County in 1990. She has already served 13 years of her 17-year sentence at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

A former grocery store clerk, White was the caretaker of her mentally retarded younger brother, Leon Myers. She had been convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree weapons possession after shooting her common-law husband, John Strouble, in the head five times.

According to Philip Genty, director of the Prisoners and Families Clinic at Columbia Law School, there was evidence early on in the White case that domestic abuse had been a factor. This included a previous court order of protection against Strouble as well as the testimony of family and neighbors, but it was not enough to sway the jury to believe that the murder was committed in self-defense, Genty said.

Incidents of abuse included Strouble tying White to a bed, his holding her over a ledge, and his playing Russian roulette with her, according to the Queens district attorney’s office.

Strouble became increasingly violent when White discovered that he was abusing drugs, Genty said. He was highly controlling and punishing.

Genty and his students had spearheaded White’s clemency plea and drafted the original petition to the governor.

White claimed that she shot Strouble after he had threatened her life. An autopsy confirmed that he was under the influence of drugs at the time of his murder, according to Genty.

“There is no doubt that there was a fair amount of physical and sexual abuse, but there was also psychological abuse,” said Genty, who offered his services to White on a pro bono basis. “The Russian roulette incident is an example.

Genty said he believes what made the case difficult was that White and Strouble’s relationship was relatively short and did not exhibit typical patterns of abuse, although he thinks the definition of abuse to be outdated.

“Our knowledge of domestic abuse has evolved,” said Genty. “We have a greater recognition. It isn’t just family members or people who are married or who have children together.”

In the 1990 case, prosecutors argued that because White was not legally married to Strouble, she could have left at any time, according to Genty, who said the defense presented an antiquated view of domestic violence and learned helplessness.

Pataki said White had earned a second chance through the circumstances of the crime and her role as a prisoner. “I do not question the jury’s verdict,” said Pataki. “The extraordinary powers of clemency allow me to exercise compassion.”

He recognized not only that domestic violence was a factor but that White had “demonstrated a true commitment to rebuilding her life through her exemplary prison record.”

The original bid for clemency in 2000 was rejected by Pataki. This time around White’s sentencing judge, Seymour Rotker, and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown actively supported White’s bid, Gentry said. Other supporters included the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the SUNY Albany Law School.

Clemency, however, does not mean vindication for White.

Not all of the circumstances of this case have been resolved. The level of abuse that White was forced to endure has been argued. “The extent of the domestic violence in this case remains in dispute,” said Pataki.

Accusations against Strouble, including gunplay, physical violence, razors and other life-threatening incidents, were made at the time of the trial, but were never independently confirmed, according to an on-line plea for clemency made by students at Martin Luther King High School. After reading about the case, the Manhattan high school’s law students began a letter-writing campaign, documented the incidents of the case and a few students even visited White.

All inmates who received clemency were said to have been picked because of the nature of their crimes and their behavior while incarcerated. Besides White who lived in Far Rockaway, the three other prisoners selected by Pataki included residents from Brooklyn, Nassau County and Manhattan.

Pataki’s clemency does not automatically release these individuals, who must still go before a parole board for consideration in mid-January. However, the board usually has agreed with the governor’s suggestions.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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