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Shantell Green is incarcerated for protecting herself against an abuser who would have killed her while her four children watched. She was pregnant at the time with her fifth child. Shantell, who is 30 years old, is serving a nine-year sentence in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

Shantell met her abuser, Dewayne Simmons, at the grocery store, where he offered to buy milk for her daughter. But he became violent and controlling shortly after they began dating. He hid her license plates, preventing Shantell from going to work or visiting her family without his permission. He demeaned Shantell constantly and in public. In the two months they were together, Simmons attacked Shantell 13 times, often drunkenly, and often in front of her children. He continued to beat her after she became pregnant, including with an aluminum baseball bat. Shantell had a warrant from a previous case, a fact Simmons held over her—he taunted her about not being able to call the police.

On June 12, 2017, Shantell believed she was going to die. They were at a picnic at Simmons’s family’s home, and he had her pinned against the kitchen sink with his hands around her throat. He had already knocked his own father unconscious for trying to intervene. Shantell’s young son pulled on her leg in an attempt to help her. She used a knife she’d been cutting the children’s food with to poke him in the chest. He punched her in the face and continued choking her, and she pushed the knife into his back. Finally, Simmons released his grip and collapsed to the floor. He died later that day, and Shantell was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Shantell and her attorney had planned to support their self-defense case with evidence of Simmons’s history of violence toward her and other women who had scars and broken bones from his abuse, and who agreed to testify on Shantell’s behalf.

However, in the prosecution’s framing of the case, Shantell attacked Simmons without provocation. Worried that her prior criminal record would make jurors assume she was guilty, and terrified at the prospect of losing her children if she received a long sentence—possibly a life sentence—Shantell accepted a plea bargain of nine years for a conviction of first-degree manslaughter.

Shantell gave birth to her baby in prison, naming her Faith. Faith can stay with Shantell in the nursery unit at Bedford Hills until she turns one, when she’ll go live with her older siblings at Shantell’s mother’s apartment in Rochester, a five-hour drive away. Due to the distance and her mother’s health issues, Shantell has only seen her older children once since she arrived at prison in early 2018. The separation from all her children is damaging to the entire family, but being separated from her baby will result in long-lasting trauma to both mother and daughter. Under Governor Cuomo’s arbitrary commutation criteria, Shantell wouldn’t be eligible for clemency until 2022. But the governor can change that now with the stroke of a pen.

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