The Weather Underground was the name adopted by a group of 1960s anti-war protesters who became increasingly violent. Originally, they were the Weathermen faction of the Students for a Democratic Society.
Judith Clark and her co-defendants said the goal of the 1981 robbery and others like it was to seize money to create a Republic of New Afrika consisting of former slave states.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said Monday that Clark deserves a new trial because no one represented her interests in the courtroom after she insisted on remaining in a cell outside court as the evidence was unveiled in court.
Before her trial, Clark told the court: "I wish to represent myself because, as a freedom fighter, I am the only one who can speak for myself and I can definitely not be represented by an officer of the court."
The judge said in a 72-page decision signed Thursday and released Monday that Clark, 56, knowingly and intelligently waived her right to a lawyer. But she said the trial judge failed to ensure Clark could abide by the rules of the court before letting her represent herself.
James Kralik, sheriff of Rockland County, where the deadly 1981 Brinks robbery took place, called the judge's decision "patently wrong" and "an absurd ruling." He said he was glad the county's district attorney was appealing it.
The judge called Clark's situation "almost unprecedented."
"She vigorously sought to represent herself at trial and yet was so unwilling to abide by courtroom protocol that she remained in a cell, outside the courtroom, for the entire presentation of the prosecution's case," the judge wrote.
She said the trial judge should not have let Clark represent herself or should have disallowed it once it became clear that no one in the courtroom would represent her interests while prosecutors presented their case.
In January 2005, Clark, who was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder, filed a petition saying the judge at her 1983 state trial violated the Constitution by letting her represent herself.
Clark was charged along with four other people, including former Weather Underground member Kathy Boudin, who was granted parole in 2003. Clark has been housed at the Bedford Hills Correctional Center in Westchester County.
She was sentenced in October 1983. In an affidavit in December 2002, she detailed her regret for her actions, her rejection of her past life and the reasons for her delay in pursuing a legal remedy, Scheindlin noted.
"Given Clark's lack of counsel and her refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the court, it is not surprising that she failed to appeal," Scheindlin said.