Nikki Addimando feels 'weight to empower' other domestic violence survivors amid fight for clemency

"She's not a felon. She's a criminalized survivor," said one activist.

Supporters of Nicole "Nikki" Addimando, a New York mother incarcerated for killing her partner, are renewing calls for Gov. Kathy Hochul to grant her clemency before the end of the year.

"I desperately feel the weight to empower other survivors before it's too late, before they end up where I am or worse," Addimando told ABC News in her first on-camera interview.

In 2017, Addimando was charged with murdering Chris Grover after suffering what she says were years of physical and sexual abuse. At trial, the mom of two testified that she shot Grover in self-defense after he threatened her life with the same gun.

"Nikki should not move through life as a felon. She's not a felon. she's a criminalized survivor," said actor and activist Hilarie Burton to ABC News.

A group of Addimando's supporters recently gathered for an event in the Hudson Valley; their pleas growing more urgent as commutations are typically issued around the holidays.

Addimando's case has put a spotlight on the plight of many domestic violence survivors. A 2005 report published by the New York State Department of Corrections stated that 67% of women sent to prison for killing someone close to them were abused by the victim of their crime.

"The system often walks in as if they're going to protect, under all circumstances. And in reality, that is not what plays out day to day. They aren't seen, valued, believed, heard, supported. They're criminalized and sentenced to life," said Kellyann Kostyal-Larrier, executive director of Fearless! Hudson Valley, to ABC News.

Despite Addimando's testimony, the prosecution called her actions "intentional murder" and said that "if she were being abused, she could have left."

"It is an extremely simplistic and really archaic look at domestic violence. If we don't understand the psychological warfare that has happened to victims — that coercive control that strips a victim of their autonomy and agency over time — that idea that door is there is a public's perception, but victims are entrenched and entrapped in an invisible door," Kostyal-Larrier said.

PHOTO: Nikki Addimando speaks during an interview with ABC News.
Nikki Addimando speaks during an interview with ABC News.
ABC News

Around the time of Addimando's conviction, a law was enacted in New York called the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), which gives courts the discretion to shorten sentences if survivors can prove that abuse was a contributing factor to a crime.

The law's passage was a 10-year labor of love for Kim Dadou Brown. In 1991, after years of abuse, Brown shot and killed her boyfriend as he tried to strangle her. She spent 17 years in prison for manslaughter.

"Nikki meets all of the criteria. She was in a domestic violence relationship. She has never been in the trouble with the law before. She did everything she was supposed to do, and that makes her qualified for this law," Brown said to ABC News.

But the judge handling Addimando's case decided the DVSJA did not apply to her, and she was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison in 2020.

Addimando appealed the case and won. The appellate court reduced her sentence to 7.5 years, noting that "the abuse was a significant contributing factor to the defendant's criminal behavior."

Meanwhile, Addimando's kids are preparing for another Christmas without their mom. Unless granted clemency, she's not set to be released until 2024.

Despite widespread support for Addimando, a petition against her early release, led by Grover's family, has garnered more than 1,200 signatures.

“Nicole Addimando has requested clemency but does not deserve clemency. Nicole took away Christopher's life without him being able to fight for his life,” the petition said.

PHOTO: Screengrab of an image of Christopher Grover featured in the online petition to deny Nikki Addimando clemency. The petition has garnered more than 1,200 signatures on by Dec. 21, 2022.
Screengrab of an image of Christopher Grover featured in the online petition to deny Nikki Addimando clemency. The petition has garnered more than 1,200 signatures on by Dec. 21, 2022.

On Thursday, Hochul granted clemency to 13 people, including nine pardons and four commutations, according to a news release. Addimando was not among the names.

"Even with a reduced sentence, even had I been acquitted, I'll live with this for the rest of my life," Addimando said.