The Chief
August 8, 2002

Turndown a 'Victory for Cops'

'71 Killer Denied Parole

By Richard Steier

   
The Chief Leader/Linda Obuchoska
'BATTLE HAS JUST BEGUN': With Patrolmen's Benevolent Association officials looking on, Diane Piagentini expresses gratitude that parole was denied for a man convicted of murdering her Police Officer husband Joseph 30 years ago, but also noted she would have to make the same case against leniency for him in another two years.

"This has been a victory for all police officers and their families," Diane Piagentini told reporters inside a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association conference room Aug 1, a day after her husband's killer was denied parole.

Police Officer Joseph Piagentini was 28 years old when he and his partner, Waverly Jones, were murdered by members of the Black Liberation Army - a deadly offshoot of the Black Panthers - as they returned to their patrol car after responding to a domestic violence call on the night of May 21, 1971.

Unrepentant Candidate

One of the three BLA members convicted in the case, Anthony Bottom, who now calls himself Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, has neither admitted his guilt nor expressed remorse about the killings, the chances of his request being granted seemed slim.

But the matter took a political twist a month earlier when Brooklyn City Council Member Charles Barron introduced a resolution supporting freedom for Mr. Muntagim and others whom it described as having been "unjustly imprisoned" for their beliefs.

"If America wants freedom for political prisoners around the world, then we must have freedom for political prisoners right here in America," Council Member Barron said during a City Hall press conference. "We say no matter what the situation, 30 years is enough. Let him out."

His stance triggered a strong reaction from the PBA in tandem with Ms. Piagentini, as well as from top city officials. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who was an NYPD Sergeant at the time of the murders, termed Mr. Muntaqim "an assassin, a killer of two police officers," and Mayor Bloomberg took the unusual step of writing the state Board of Parole asking that it keep Mr. Muntaqim incarcerated for the balance of his 25 year-to-life sentence.

'Let Outrage Be Known'

A campaign led by the PBA produced more than 10,000 letters and e-mail messages to the parole board opposing freedom for Mr. Muntaqim, a union spokesman said last week.

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch, describing himself as "extremely grateful" that the board heeded their pleas, thanked his members and others who "let their outrage be known that this murderer should not be let out on the streets."

He said he was never sure that the decision would go against Mr. Muntaqim, remarking, "You can't ever take for granted that the Parole Board is going to know all the facts or have the courage to do the right thing."

Ms. Piagentini, while clearly elated by the ruling, spoke of having to again marshal her emotional resources two years from now, when Mr. Muntaqim can renew his bid for freedom and another of the killers, Herman Bell, becomes eligible for parole. (The third man convicted in the case died in prison.)

She said she had asked the union to pursue a bill in Albany that would prevent cop-killers from regularly being able to seek parole no matter now often they are denied it.

"If you kill a New York City Police Officer, the penalty is life with no parole, Ms. Piagentini said in a soft but firm voice. "That's it. They're not political prisoners. They're assassins."

The two daughters she had to raise without a father, Deborah and Mary, took active roles in the campaign against parole for Mr. Muntaqim, Ms. Piagentini noted, and would carry on in the future.

"He asks for parole, I'm going to be there," she said. "When I pass away, my daughters are going to be there. The PBA will always be there.