'86 murder victim's family opposes clemency

Holly Coomber / file photo

The family of a Finger Lakes murder victim is opposing clemency for an accomplice who has received national attention.

On November 6th, 1986, 27-year-old Donna Guerreri was working the night shift at a Kwik Fill just outside the Village of Seneca Falls. A Georgia man, William Allen, and his 17-year-old stepdaughter Holly Coomber entered the store and robbed Guerreri at gunpoint. Allen killed her despite Guerreri's pleas for mercy. Allen and Coomber were on the run from a similar murder at a gas station in the state of Georgia.

William Allen was convicted of both slayings and is currently serving a life sentence in Georgia. Holly Coomber served 20 years in Georgia until four years ago when she was transferred to New York State to begin serving her 12 and a half to 25 year sentence for robbery and assault for her role in the Donna Guerreri's murder.

Holly Coomber and her supporters have applied to Governor David Paterson for clemency. Coomer's story appears on a website, Free Hoilly Coomber . She's also been featured on the WE cable network. Coomber claims she was forced to participate in both murders by a stepfather who repeatedly threatened and sexually abused her. "To me, Bill was all powerful..." Coomber said in a recent documentary.

The family of Donna Guerreri oppose Coomber's plea for clemency. Her sister, Kathleen Passalacqua, told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon "She bragged about what she was going to do at the time. She thought it was cool. Was she taken advantage of? Yes. Was she abused? Yes... but at that moment in time, she thought she was a little bandit."

Guerreri's mother Mary Taft added, "If my daughter can't come back to us, why should she come back to reality."

The family has enlisted the support of State Senator Mike Nozzolio who wrote a letter to Governor Paterson. Nozzolio opposes clemency for Coomber for her role in what he called the "violent and cold blooded murder of Donna Guerreri."

Nozzolio said "Whatever the circumstances in Holly Coomber's upbringing... they aren't a license to kill." Nozzolio is urging opponents to Coomber's early release to contact Governor Paterson.

If Coomber loses her clemency bid, her earliest release date would be in March of 2018.

The attorney for Coomber contacted CNY Central via email Tuesday morning. Here is the text of her letter:

Dear Mr. Kenyon,

I would like to write a response to the news coverage about Holly Coomber.

My interest in this is that I am Holly Coomber TMs personal counsel and I am working with a legal team to help Holly Coomber. Claims that Holly lacks remorse are untrue. I don TMt think people know anything about the circumstances around Holly TMs involvement in the crimes committed by William Allen.

I am a lifelong resident of New York State, 44 years in Ontario and Seneca Counties, and I have worked with Holly for 12 years. In 26 years as a lawyer I haven TMt ever seen a case with so many layers of egregious wrongness.

Holly TM life story is one of horror and redemption. The horror began when she was taken as an infant from a loving birth family because they were too poor to care for her and placed with a dysfunctional and abusive adoptive family that ostracized her after the surprise birth of their own biological daughter. She was then shuffled into foster care with a monster that drew her into his incestuous and criminal fantasies. Finally, she was speciously pleaded into harsh prison sentences where she was subjected to torture. Throughout her life there were many moments of possible intervention that were disregarded by those obligated to help her. Holly was driven into despair, rendered incapable of human interaction and communication.

Holly TMs redemption began when the federal courts intervened in the Georgia prison system and for the first time she was given competent therapeutic guidance. Since then she has worked tirelessly to examine herself and her life in order to face the torment of her past. She has grown up in prison and against all odds has become a literate and compassionate adult.

Holly anguishes every day with the Guerriris and the Moores over what William Allen did and how he forced her to participate. She is plagued by the desire to have done something to stop him and the knowledge that as a child there was nothing she could have done without having his gun turned on her. But she has developed coping skills and a strong sense of purpose. She has taken advantage of every program available to her in prison, obtained her G.E.D., earned vocational certificates, and is on the Dean TMs List at the Marymount Manhattan College program at Bedford Hills. She has made such great strides during her 2 1/2 decades of confinement that she has earned clemency in the form of a commutation of her minimum sentence in New York.

--Stephanie Batcheller Attorney at Law