After 23 years in prison and incredible advocacy by Sanctuary partners Davis Polk & Wardwell, Monica Szlekovics has been granted clemency for the crime she was compelled to commit in 1996 due to years of abuse from her ex-husband. In granting her clemency, the State acknowledges the extenuating circumstances of her conviction and the traumatic impact of domestic violence on its victims.
Read our press release below:
Hon. Judy Harris Kluger, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families, New York State’s leading advocate and service provider for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking and related forms of gender violence, issued the following statement:
“In granting clemency to domestic violence survivor Monica Szlekovics, who served 23 years of a 50-year to life sentence, Governor Andrew Cuomo has not only recognized her incredible personal transformation and achievements while in prison, but he has also acknowledged the extenuating circumstances of her conviction and the traumatic impact of domestic violence on its victims.”
“Sanctuary for Families views Monica’s clemency as a victory for survivors of intimate partner abuse everywhere. We applaud the Governor for his insight, compassion and courage in making this important decision.”
Monica’s clemency case was handled by an extraordinary team of pro bono attorneys at Davis Polk & Wardwell, led by Special Counsel for Pro Bono Sharon Katz and Pro Bono Attorney Dara Sheinfeld, and including associates Jennifer Kalmanides and Peter Bozzo, former associates Brooklynn Moore and Jaryn Fields, and former legal assistant Emma Schwartz. Partner Tatiana Martins also provided valuable assistance. The team worked closely with outside co-counsel, Sara Bennett, whose prior clemency experience proved invaluable. The team engaged with numerous leaders in the domestic violence community, who strongly advocated for Monica’s release. The case was referred to Davis Polk by the Initiative for Incarcerated Survivors of Gender Violence, founded in 2017 by Dorchen Leidholdt, the Director of Sanctuary for Families’ Legal Center.
Like so many women across this country, Monica suffered years of excruciating and escalating domestic violence at the hands of her now ex-husband. He choked her, threatened her with guns, beat her mercilessly—rupturing her eardrum and bruising her from head to toe, and subjected her to ongoing psychological torture. Years of abuse led her to fear that her husband would kill her. Eventually, he kidnapped her at gunpoint and forced her—through a combination of physical threats, force, emotional abuse, and psychological manipulation—to accompany him on a violent crime spree in Rochester in search of an estranged girlfriend, who, herself, had previously fled from his violence.
Monica was sentenced to 50 years to life for her participation in crimes masterminded and instigated by her abusive husband. At his trial, which post-dated hers, the prosecutor characterized Monica as “a pathetic, battered woman,” and acknowledged that her husband was a dangerously violent man who was “manipulating her, controlling her [and] dominating her.”
During her 23-year incarceration, Monica transformed herself from a broken, battered, drug-addicted young woman into a self-aware, confident agent of change. Among other accomplishments, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, cum laude, became a responsible and valued employee of the prison’s college program, consistently volunteered her time to mentor other women, and flourished as a talented and published writer and artist.