Compassionate Clemency for Claudia Reddy: Justice for a Battered Woman

by Judy Greenspan
Claudia Reddy, a 42-year-old Dominican woman, is dying of lung cancer at the California Institution for Women, in Frontera, California. She is serving a 15-year to life sentence on a second degree murder charge. Claudia has already been in prison for over 14 years. Claudia’s crime was defending herself against and killing her abusive husband. She describes in her own words, the brutality that she suffered:
“His jealous possessiveness exploded into physical abuse of me behind closed doors – a shameful secret that hovered like a cloud over our marriage. A heavy drinker, my husband hit me so hard that the retina of one eye was knocked loose – resulting in partial blindness in the eye. A swift kick to my stomach while I was pregnant resulted in a tragic miscarriage. Subsequent miscarriages resulted from other brutalities. An impression of his teeth remain in a semicircular sore on my forearm… Terrified and fearing for my life during one of his attacks, I grabbed his gun to defend myself. I was arrested and convicted of second degree murder.”
I had the opportunity to visit with Claudia this past May prior to her last compassionate release hearing. Claudia, her new husband, Jerry, and I sat together in the uncomfortable visiting room at CIW and talked. Claudia is an extremely articulate, intelligent and caring woman. It is clearly her inner strength, her desire to die outside of prison and be united with her husband (if only for a short time) that is keeping her alive.
Claudia is currently confined to either her bed or a wheelchair. A thin, slight woman, she explained to me that she has trouble swallowing the food that is prepared for her because the cancer has spread to her esophagus. While she was at the outside hospital, medical staff would puree her meals. Now that she is back at the prison, CIW staff has continued her “special diet” but they won’t puree her food. Thus, she has great trouble eating.
She struggles to breathe at night and is routinely given oxygen. She is in tremendous pain. She has been given a prognosis by prison doctors and specialists from the outside hospital of less than a few months to live. Claudia married a very kind gentle man while in prison. Her husband would like to take care of her during this last period of her life.
Neither Governor Wilson nor the Board of Prison Terms has shown any degree of compassion toward Claudia Reddy. In both April and May 1997, Claudia was turned down for compassionate release. Her clemency petition has been gathering dust on the governor’s desk for several years. Claudia asked me to get people involved in her release campaign.
We ask that you write to the governor in her support today. Address your letters to Governor Pete Wilson, State Captol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814.
The message is simple:
Dear Governor Wilson:
Claudia Reddy was convicted of second degree murder over 14 years ago for defending herself against a violent and abusive husband. She has developed lung cancer and been given a prognosis of only a few weeks to live. Though her condition worsens daily, she was turned down for compassionate release by the parole board in both April and May. You have the power to grant Ms. Reddy a compassionate release by signing her clemency papers, which have been before you for over four years. I urge you to do so immediately and allow Claudia Reddy to spend her last remainining days near her family and friends in a community-based hospice.
If you cannot sign her clemency papers then please direct the Board of Prison Terms to grant her compassionate release. I am sure that Ms. Reddy will abide by any terms of parole.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Sincerely,