- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

NYACK, N.Y. Norma Hill, who had a gun thrust in her face during a deadly robbery escape by radicals a generation ago, gave an eyewitness account of the killings she saw that day. Her testimony helped put activist Kathy Boudin behind bars.
Now, with her account of Boudin's good works as an inmate, Mrs. Hill is trying to help free Boudin, who faced her first parole hearing Wednesday. Despite Mrs. Hill's testimony, the parole board ordered Boudin held for at least two more years.
Mrs. Hill's was a rare voice of support. Opposition to Boudin's parole runs strong, especially from the families of the two police officers and security guard who were gunned down that day in 1981.
Mrs. Hill saw Boudin's capture, picked her out of a lineup and repeatedly testified against her in pretrial hearings. She has no second thoughts about it to this day.
"It was the right thing to do," she said in an interview before the parole hearing. "I wanted everybody involved in this crime to be put in jail."
Years later, as a volunteer at the Bedford Hills women's prison, Mrs. Hill encountered Boudin again. She was at first apprehensive to find herself working with Boudin on an AIDS program for inmates one that Boudin redesigned into a program now considered a national model.
Boudin, who had a year-old son when arrested, also developed a program on parenting behind bars and helped write a handbook for inmates whose children are in foster care. She also earned a master's degree in adult education while in prison.
Impressed, Mrs. Hill eventually befriended Boudin and visited her often.
Boudin, now 58, has served 20 years of her 20-to-life sentence for felony murder and robbery.
The possibility that Boudin would be released from prison aroused a well-organized opposition that included relatives of the murdered men; politicians, from Gov. George E. Pataki on down; and police officers throughout the region.
"Kathy Boudin is as guilty of those murders as if she pulled the trigger herself," says Brian Lennon, a former Nyack policeman who saw his partner and sergeant gunned down by Boudin's cohorts. "She's where she belongs."
Diane O'Grady, widow of slain Sgt. Edward O'Grady, said, "When Boudin was sentenced, I knew I would have to fight to keep her in. I made Ed a promise that I would do that."
New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said the prospect of Boudin's release "sickens my stomach."
At a rally last month in Nyack, hundreds of area residents held glowing blue light sticks as they walked through the darkness from a park alongside the Hudson River to a post office to mail tens of thousands of anti-parole letters to the governor and the parole board.
Mrs. Hill wrote her own letter to the governor, urging parole. She also took up Boudin's cause at a meeting with the parole board staff, and in an address to a small local group advocating parole.
"I believe in restorative justice," she said at her home in Armonk. "I know Kathy is full of sorrow and remorse. I know she tried very hard to make amends by doing as much as she possibly could to preserve life in prison and to create programs that help other inmates. I know she is absolutely not a danger to society."
Boudin, daughter of left-wing attorney Leonard Boudin, became a radical activist in the 1960s. Before the Brink's job, she had last been seen in 1970, naked, outside a town house in Greenwich Village after a bomb that was being assembled there killed three members of the Weather Underground.
Eventually, she signed on with Black Liberation Army members and other radicals who were planning to rob a Brink's armored car in Nanuet, near Nyack. The group apparently wanted to have white people driving the getaway vehicle, a U-Haul truck, to throw off pursuers.
A Brink's guard, Peter Paige, was killed during the Oct. 20, 1981 robbery; the gunmen made off with $1.6 million. Police quickly set up a roadblock at the entrance to the New York State Thruway in Nyack. When Norma Hill and her 67-year-old mother arrived there, on their way home, officers told them to find another way.
"As I made the U-turn, my access was blocked by a U-Haul," Mrs. Hill remembers. "Suddenly, there was a lot of activity. I thought it was a drug bust. I thought someone had committed a traffic violation. I even thought they were making a movie.
"Miss Boudin was standing adjacent to the passenger side of my car. I couldn't really see very much of what she was doing. But then I saw one of the detectives pass around the back of the U-Haul.
"As he turned around to walk away, the back of the U-Haul opened and there was a barrage of gunfire."
Gang members burst out of the back of the truck, firing automatic weapons at the surprised police. Mr. Lennon testified that Boudin, unarmed and acting frightened, had talked the policemen into lowering their guns leaving them defenseless to the slaughter.
Some of the gunmen had woolen hats pulled over their faces "and they were just firing at random with automatic rifles," Mrs. Hill recalled.
The Nyack policemen were outgunned. Sgt. O'Grady and Officer Waverly Brown were killed.
Then one of the fleeing gunmen put an automatic rifle to Mrs. Hill's face, pulled her out of the driver's seat, pushed her mother out the other side and took off in her car.
Boudin also tried to leave, on foot, but was picked up by an off-duty corrections officer. Eventually, she pleaded guilty to felony murder for her part in the killing of the Brink's guard. Other members of the gang were sentenced to much longer terms.
Boudin did not respond to a written request for an interview. In a recent New Yorker article, she said she did not know how the gang planned to get the money or what it was to be used for. "I was responsible for not being responsible," she said.
Mrs. Hill said she understands the opposition to parole, especially from the victims' families.
"I'd like to tell them, when I was first involved with it and spent three years testifying, I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do for you and for myself. Now, I think the right thing to do is to let her out."


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