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Laura Martin

Laura Martin is serving a 20-year sentence for killing her father, a man who had physically and sexually abused her since childhood and who threatened to do the same to her five-year-old daughter.

Throughout her childhood, Laura Martin’s father molested her. No family member ever intervened or even acknowledged the abuse. In response, Laura began drinking at a very early age and, by the age of 13, was struggling with alcoholism and, soon after, cocaine use. When she became pregnant, she decided to go into a residential drug treatment program, where she was living when her baby daughter was born. The two lived in the center for another year and a half while Laura finished treatment and then began to work there as a drug counselor.

Laura had been clean for several years when her father, who was homeless and struggling with alcoholism, asked to stay in her apartment with her and her daughter. His physical abuse resumed. He slammed her face into the sink and she went to work with two black eyes. Though her daughter never saw him hit her, she would hear him yelling at Laura in the next room and say “Grandpa, leave Mom alone.”

One evening in 2004, after he had been drinking and yelling, Laura told her father that he could keep the apartment but that she and her daughter were leaving. “My father threatened to kill me and do to my daughter what he did to me,” Laura recalled. “He came at me with a bottle and I blacked out. When I realized what I did my father was dead.”

She was arrested and sent to Rikers, without bail, for three years. Her lawyer told her that, if she took her chance at trial, she risked being sentenced to 25 years to life for intentional murder. She agreed to a plea bargain and was sentenced to 20 years.

Laura is now 57 years old. She has spent a total of 14 years behind bars and has two years and nine months left on her sentence. Her daughter is 19 years old and about to enter college. The two maintain a loving relationship despite the separation. But in prison, Laura’s health is declining. She suffered from a stroke; when she went to the clinic they gave her Motrin and sent her back. When she finally was taken to the hospital, medical staff found a blood clot in her brain. She has had a number of surgeries on her hands and her leg and has also been diagnosed with high cholesterol. Wth the limited foods available in prison, she has been changing her diet.

Laura has already applied for clemency once in 2013. After five years of silence, she received a form letter informing her that her application had been denied and that she would be eligible to apply again after one year.

In prison, Laura works as a facilitator and mentor in parenting classes and alternatives to violence programming. She is an avid reader and is earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology. Laura is passionate about making people feel welcomed and supported and is eager to get back to work as a drug addiction counselor when she is finally released. She hopes that, with her commutation, that release will come soon.

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