Twenty-one year old Keila Pulinario is led away in 1995 by Suffolk police following her arrest for fatally shooting a former boyfriend she said had raped her. (Michael Alexander/Courtesy of New York Post)
A woman who has spent 17 years in prison for murdering her former boyfriend is entitled to another chance at release because the state Board of Parole has not properly considered her efforts to turn her life around, a Manhattan state judge has ruled.
Keila Pulinario, 39, has been denied parole twice since being sentenced to 15 years to life—the last time in 2012 by a parole board that spent most of its time questioning her about the circumstances of her 1995 Suffolk County crime.
“In sum, the parole board gave great weight to the seriousness of Pulinario’s crime without any explanation of why the 17-year-old crime outweighed the voluminous evidence that indicates she would presently be able to live a quiet and crime-free life in society,” Acting Supreme Court Justice Peter Moulton (See Profile) wrote in Pulinario v. New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, 100990/13.
Moulton ordered the state parole board on Feb. 11 to conduct a new hearing within 45 days.
In 1997, a state court jury convicted Pulinario of shooting Imagio Santano after she said he raped her, bragged about it to mutual acquaintances and threatened to do it again. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Shortly after her conviction, Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello started representing her pro bono.
On habeas corpus review, the federal court ruled she should have been allowed to offer testimony by an expert in rape trauma syndrome. Back in state court, she pleaded guilty in 2005 in exchange for a 15-year-to-life sentence.
At the resentencing, Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson, who had prosecuted Pulinario at her 1997 trial, observed that Pulinario had accepted responsibility for her crime, “had made great strides in the rehabilitation process” and was not “the same person she was 10 years ago.”
Elaine Lord, former superintendent of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility where Pulinario is being held, supported her 2012 bid for parole, writing to the board that Pulinario had “matured” behind bars and that “there is nothing to be gained by keeping Ms. Pulinario in prison, and every expectation [is] that she would be an asset to our society if she would be released.”
Sister Mary Nerney, of STEPs to End Family Violence wrote to the board that Pulinario, was ready “to return to society.” The nun noted that Pulinario had participated in vocational and rehabilitative programs while in prison.
Moulton said his decision was bolstered by the opinion of Pulinario’s parole officer, William Meed, who assessed her risk to society as “low.”
Nevertheless, the judge said, the parole board decided on the day of Pulinario’s 2012 hearing that “there is a reasonable probability that you would not live and remain at liberty without violating the law and that your release would be incompatible with the public safety and welfare of the community.”
Pulinario’s pro bono attorneys—Morvillo partner Jodi Misher Peikin, who has represented her for the past decade, and associate­ Ajay Krishnamurthy—filed an Article 78 petition challenging the board’s determination.
Moulton noted that courts usually are “properly reluctant” to overturn the parole board. Here, however, the judge concluded the board hadn’t given sufficient weight to the positive changes in her life.
A spokesman for the New York State Department of Corrections said the department is “reviewing the decision.”
In the department’s response to Pulinario’s Article 78 petition Assistant Attorney General Mary Kim denied the parole board focused “solely” on Pulinario’s crime. To the contrary, the record “shows that the parole board considered all statutory factors,” she said.
The state also cited a state law explaining that parole “shall not be granted merely as a reward for good conduct of efficient performance of duties while confined.”
Peikin said she was pleased with Moulton’s ruling. “[Pulinario] has done extremely well in prison, and she’s ready and hoping to become a productive member of society,” she said.