Last week, Mohaman Koti faced the parole board for the eighth time. He had been in prison since 1978. He was serving a 25-years-to-life sentence. By now he was 87 years old, hard of hearing and suffering from several health problems. He gets around on a wheelchair. The parole board had already deemed him a low risk to return to crime, yet Koti had been denied parole on each try, and it seemed that perhaps he would die in prison.
But then last week, on Tuesday, the board granted Koti parole.
Koti had been convicted of attempted murder. He had shot a police officer. He and the officer had gotten into an argument over a sticker on his car. Koti claimed that he pulled his gun and fired after the officer drew his own gun. The officer survived. At the time of the shooting, Koti had been on parole for a bank robbery conviction. He tried to escape from Rikers Island before he was transferred to state prison.
Over his three decades in prison, Koti seemed to straighten up. He avoided trouble. He gave talks to students. And his medical troubles piled up.
In a 2001 message posted on a prisoner activism forum, Koti wrote:
For the last 3 weeks I have been sick with myasthenia gravis muscular. Was at St. Agnes Medical Hospital. My eyes are giving me some trouble and now the prostrate [sic] is acting up…I went to the bathroom 21 times in two hours. I have been very weak. I will be seeing the urologist…this week at an outside hospital, White Medical. At times I cannot see anything out of my right eye.
He was denied parole on each of his first six attempts.
The sixth try was in May 2013. As New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer reported in October, “The board said he had a history of violence, was at risk to commit another crime, and letting him go would create disrespect for the law.”
Koti’s lawyers appealed the decision in court. Earlier this year, a judge ruled that the board’s basis for denying him parole was irrational. Koti got another parole hearing a month ago, and the board’s votes split evenly in that one, so the board held another hearing last Tuesday.
Koti is now figuring out where he will live when he gets out, says his lawyer Susan Tipograph. He will need assisted-living arrangements. Much of his surviving family is down South, and he may move there to stay with them. Or he may stay in New York. But once all that is sorted out he will walk out of prison, probably in October, Tipograph says.