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Crime

DA Flynn rallies against Elder Parole & Clean Slate, cites Bike Path Rapist

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Pool photo/ Harry Scull, Buffalo News
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Altemio Sanchez (left) and his Attorney Andrew LoTempio in court in 2007

With the state Legislature session getting close to the end, there's a fight over this year's criminal justice reforms, and it has Erie County District Attorney John Flynn suggesting that a serial rapist like Altemio Sanchez, known as the Bike Path Rapist, could be let free.

In Albany, there are three-major proposals: One would change the parole system to make the decision based more on behavior in prison than the crime behind prison. Another sets up a system to allow a parole hearing for a prisoner who is at least 55 and served at least 15 years. The third, called the Clean Slate Bill, would expunge records after release from prison.

Sanchez pleaded guilty in 2007 to the murder of three Buffalo area women, and was sentenced to 75 years to life. Flynn said that the package of reform bills together could result in Sanchez’s release.

“Put those bills together, Sanchez is walking out of jail at 55 years old," he said. "Now, he happens to be 63, so he's past 55. Let's pretend that he's 55 instead of 63, he's walking out of jail, again, again, as long as he has been a good prisoner, which I don't know if he has been or not.”

The New York State District Attorney’s Association is pressing against the reform plans, and on Wednesday, Flynn released a list of prison inmates who would get a parole hearing under the legal proposal, from Sanchez to Mark David Chapman who killed Beatle John Lennon  to "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz.

“We are in the midst of discussions with Albany to change that,  or to ask for it to be changed. I'm hopeful with the Clean Slate Act, that we can make changes to that and tweaks to that," he said. "There's a lot of minutiae to that. There is not minutia to the Elder Parole bill.”

Flynn also says he's concerned about Clean Slate because it could mean that fingerprints and DNA samples would be destroyed when records are expunged.

The Clean Slate legislation has some strong support in the business community; JPMorgan Chase says it hired 2,100 new people last year with criminal records.

“I’ve been denied a lot of jobs because of my criminal background,” Melinda Agnew, who was convicted 22 years ago of misdemeanor aggravated assault, said at a state Senate hearing on the bill earlier this month.  “I’ve been denied a lot of housing throughout the years because of my criminal background.”

Senate sponsor Zellnor Myrie said Agnew and others deserve a second chance at employment and housing. He said there are also economic losses that affect Black and brown communities, where residents have been disproportionately incarcerated.

“We know that individuals with convictions lose hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout their lifetime, simply because they are denied on their conviction record,” Myrie said. “We leave billions of dollars on the table, because we shut people out of our economy.”

The bill would establish a two-step process of first automatically sealing, and later automatically expunging, conviction records once a person has served their sentence.

The process is similar to provisions in the recently passed law legalizing marijuana in New York, where some with past convictions for cannabis sale or possession will see their records erased.

Supporters said they hope they can complete work on the legislation before the session ends in June.

Michigan, Pennsylvania and Utah have adopted similar laws, though in some of those states, those with criminal convictions have to petition for their records to be permanently expunged.

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