New York 1 News

February 3, 2004

Victim's Son Calls For Parole Of Convicted Cop Killer

A man convicted in the execution-style murders of two police officers in Harlem over three decades ago is up for parole this week, and the son of one of the victims called for his release Tuesday.

   

Herman Bell and two other former Black Panthers were convicted of shooting officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in what prosecutors called a planned assassination at a housing project in 1971. Bell, who has served 29 years in prison but maintains he was wrongly convicted, goes before a parole board in an upstate prison on Wednesday.

Tuesday in Brooklyn, Bell’s supporters – including his son and Waverly’s and City Councilman Charles Barron, himself a former Black Panther – rallied to call for his parole. Waverly Jones Jr., who never knew his slain father, urged the police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, to relax its opposition. Jones said he doesn’t believe Bell killed his father.

“I pray that the PBA will take that word benevolent and apply it to those who suffer unjustly,” Jones said. “I am very proud of Herman Bell and the accomplishments that he has made in spite of being held in prison for all these years, and the things that he has done are commendable."

The PBA, along with Piagentini’s widow, says Bell should stay behind bars, and last month the union delivered a petition with thousands of signatures urging against parole.

On May 21, 1971, Bell, Anthony Bottom and Albert Washington, all members of the Black Liberation Army, ambushed the partners at the Colonial Park Houses on 159th Street after placing a phony domestic violence call, according to prosecutors. Bottom shot Jones, who was black, from behind. After Piagentini, who was white, pleaded for his life, Bell shot him over a dozen times, the PBA says.

Bell claims prosecutors and police used illegal tactics to convict him, and he and his supporters consider him a political prisoner. Bell, who is serving a sentence of 25 years to life, earned a graduate degree behind bars, and his supporters call him a model prisoner.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Kamel Bell read a letter his father wrote from behind bars. “Although I did not commit this offense,” Bell wrote, “my condolences have always been extended to the Piagentini and Jones families and to all of those who have suffered as a consequence of this tragedy. As a lover of humanity, I believe that an untimely loss of life in distressing circumstances is reprehensible.”

In a statement released Tuesday, PBA President Pat Lynch said: "Herman Bell and his accomplices drove across country for the express purpose of killing New York City police officers. To suggest that he is a political prisoner is laughable. He is a cold blooded murderer, not a victim of his ideals."

After Wednesday’s hearing, the parole board will issue a decision later this week or sometime next week.

Bottom is eligible for parole again in July. Washington died in prison.