The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association fired a second salvo last week in its battle to revoke the parole granted to Herman Bell, part of a Black Liberation Army hit team that gunned down Police Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in 1971.
A three-member Parole Board voted 2 to 1 last month to release Mr. Bell, 70, as early as April 17. A second shooter, Anthony Bottom, is up for parole in June. The third member of the hit team, Albert Washington, died in prison.
Key Data Ignored
In a letter dated March 26 to an official at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, where Mr. Bell is serving a 25-year-to-life term, the PBA lawyers said the board had neglected to consider the minutes of the proceeding at which State Supreme Court Justice Edward Greenfield sentenced Mr. Bell.
Because the board did not consider the minutes, the letter argued, it was unaware of statements by Justice Greenfield and the lawyers involved about the seriousness of the crime, and statements by Mr. Bell in which he appeared to justify it. One of the defense attorneys, for example, said that the three killers were “beyond rehabilitation.” Justice Greenfield also called for Mr. Bell to be imprisoned as long as legally possible.
“Based on the failure to consider the sentencing minutes, the board’s determination is contrary to the law and the matter must be remanded to the board for a new hearing before a new board,” the letter said. “Accordingly…Bell’s release date must be immediately rescinded.”
PBA President Patick J. Lynch said in a statement, “This parole panel has clearly violated the law by granting the release of three-time cop-killer Herman Bell without having reviewed all of the information required by statute. This board did not consider the most damning and serious information regarding the commission of this heinous crime.
“It bears saying again, if the planned, rehearsed, executed and celebrated cold-blooded murder of two hero police officers who were answering a fake call for help does not require life in prison without parole, what crime does? With this new information, the law requires the rescission of Bell’s release and a new parole hearing to be conducted with all information seriously considered.”
‘Frisco Cop Killed
The third officer death Mr. Lynch referred to was that of Sgt. John Young of the San Francisco Police Department, who was killed three months after the attack on the New York officers by shotguns fired into a stationhouse. Mr. Bell was convicted of manslaughter in that case.
On May 21, 1971, Officers Jones and Piagentini responded to a report of a disturbance at a Harlem housing project. There was no disturbance; the killers had made a phony 911 call to lure officers to the scene. When they left the building, the three men shot them.
Officer Jones was hit in the head and died instantly, but Officer Piagentini lingered. He was shot 22 times as he begged for his life, telling his killers that he had two young daughters at home.
The shooters were all sentenced to 25 years to life, the most-severe sentence available at the time. This meant that after 25 years they would be eligible for a parole hearing every two years.
Mr. Bell was turned down seven times. But this year his Parole Board decided he no longer posed a threat to society. The board majority praised him for expressing remorse for the murders, after years of characterizing them as part of a war on society.
Keep Cop-Killers Jailed
The PBA, which routinely opposes parole for cop-killers, vowed to overturn the decision and called for the firing of the two Parole Commissioners, Otis Cruse and Carol Shapiro, who had voted to release Mr. Bell.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision replied that only a court can overturn a parole decision and that disagreeing with a decision was not a reason for dismissing the Commissioners who made it.
Mr. Lynch said the PBA would investigate every possible way to reverse the decision.
The union said the information contained in the sentencing minutes included the prosecutor’s statement that if the death penalty was in effect, he would recommend that it be imposed.
Further, Justice Greenfield called for Mr. Bell to be held in custody as long as legally permissible. He also said his sentence should be served consecutively with any other term imposed. This apparently was not done with the sentence given for the murder of Sergeant Young in San Francisco, which was time served.
William Mogulescu, one of the defense attorneys, said the three killers “are beyond rehabilitation. There is no question of that, because they feel unless our society is restructured and overthrown, that there is no justice, that there is no hope, that there is no way.”
Was Remorse Real?
Late last month, the PBA made its first set of arguments, saying the Parole Board had not heard testimony from Officer Jones’s brother, who opposed parole, and that Mr. Bell’s show of remorse over the killings was not believable considering that he had not expressed any regret in his previous seven hearings.
Its letter to the prison was accompanied by one from State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a former Erie County Sheriff and Parole Board member who is a prominent backer of law-and-order causes.
Mr. Gallivan said the Parole Board should consider that the decision to release Mr. Bell has sparked “public outrage, which clearly demonstrates that a release decision so depreciates the seriousness of the crime as to undermine respect for the law.
“This includes the voices of the Mayor of New York City, William de Blasio, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who stated, ‘it sends the wrong message,’ which is the very essence of the ‘deprecate’ standard of release as provided for in the Executive Law," Mr. Gallivan continued.