February 4, 2004

Together for a Common Cause

Sons of victim, convict in '71 cop killing case call for parole


The son of a police officer and the son of one of the men found guilty of the officer's 1971 murder stood side by side in a Brooklyn church yesterday.

Together, they called for freedom for one of the two surviving convicts, whose parole hearing is scheduled to take place today.

"Nothing would give me more pleasure," Waverly Jones Jr., the son of the slain officer, said of early release of the inmate doing time for killing his father and another cop. "Nothing would give me as much joy as to see him walk out those doors."

Three decades have passed since Herman Bell was sentenced, along with Anthony Bottom and Albert Washington, to 25 years to life for the murder of Jones, who was black, and Joseph Piagentini, who was white.

The three-Washington would die in prison in 2000 -were members of the Black Liberation Army, an avowedly violent splinter group of the Black Panthers.

The May 21, 1971, shooting outside a Harlem housing project was seen as a touchstone in the larger battles in those years over civil rights, the war in Vietnam and police brutality.

Piagentini's family remains opposed to either of the two surviving convicts being released. So does the police union. Policemen's Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch called Bell a killer who should not be mythologized as a hero. "He is a cold-blooded murderer, not a victim of his ideals," he said in a statement.

But Jones, 33, and Bell's son, Kamel Jacot-Bell, 25, joined Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron, himself a former Black Panther, in calling for the parole board to release Herman Bell.

Barron said police used violence to intimidate Bell's organization and quash dissent. He said releasing Bell would be a step toward "closure."

Today, Herman Bell will stand before the parole board for the first time and make his case.

"If the board applies the criteria, he should get parole," Bell's attorney, Robert Boyle, said.

But Boyle said he was not confident the board would be able to look beyond the nature of the crime.

Bottom, who changed his name to Jalil Abdul Muntaqim after converting to Islam, was denied parole once, and comes up again in July.

Yesterday, Jacot-Bell read from a prepared statement written by his father from his cell in Eastern Correctional Facility in upstate Napanoch.

"Although I did not commit this offense, my condolences have always been extended to the Piagentini and Jones families," he read. "As a lover of humanity, I believe that an untimely loss of life under such distressing circumstances is reprehensible."

Jacot-Bell said his father still believes in the principles of the now disbanded Black Panthers but added he would not engage in political activities if released. "He wants to go to a farm and raise his own food," he said.