Gov. David A. Paterson's decision to shorten John White's sentence followed a large-scale campaign on White's behalf with letter-writing drives, online petitions and personal appeals to the governor from African-American leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton.
White's lawyers also submitted hundreds of pages of trial documents for review by Paterson's counsel and his Executive Clemency Committee, which makes recommendations on such requests. "It's safe to say he received very extensive input," Paterson spokeswoman Jessica Bassett said.
Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota was sharply critical of the governor for not consulting Daniel Cicciaro Jr.'s family beforehand. Cicciaro was the 17-year-old whom White fatally shot after a confrontation outside White's Miller Place home.
Bassett confirmed the governor did not ask for any input from Cicciaro's family, nor was he required to. Spota's office also was not asked to weigh in on the clemency application. However, "the governor was aware of statements made by the family at the time of sentencing," Bassett said. In 2008, Cicciaro's father, other relatives and supporters denounced the 2-to-4-year sentence handed down on the gun charge as too lenient.
Sharpton said he spoke to the governor once or twice about the case. Paterson called him yesterday morning to tell him of the decision, he said.
"I was delighted to hear it," Sharpton said, adding: "This is not based on any pressure from any of the activist groups, though we all called on it."
White's own Faith Baptist Church of Coram, where he serves as a deacon, had sent several hundred letters, said its pastor, the Rev. Beresford Adams.
The campaign to free White also included a resolution by the New York State NAACP and sent to Paterson. Hazel Dukes, head of the group, said NAACP members spoke to state legislators and Paterson's staff, and urged NAACP members to write letters.
The group argued that White is a "model citizen, a family man and a church man . . . who was defending his family and his home, which is basic in America," she said. "Mr. White didn't go out seeking these people. They came to his home."
Paul Gianelli, one of White's trial lawyers, said the lawyers wrote a letter to Paterson's counsel seeking the sentence commutation and also sent extensive documentation, including transcripts of parts of White's trial and sentencing.
The request was reviewed by the counsel's office and the Clemency Committee. It was one of 1,100 requests for early release this year alone, Bassett said.
She noted that the governor "has broad authority in clemency cases."Asked if the governor's office had received any requests to oppose early release for White, Bassett responded: "I cannot provide details of any communication received by the governor in relation to a request for pardon. Letters, phone calls and other communication related to a request for pardon are confidential." With Chau Lam