A three-time cop killer will be paroled after more than 44 years in prison, despite protests from police and a Long Island widow who said her husband was shot repeatedly as he begged to be spared because of two young daughters.
Herman Bell, 70, could be released as early as April 17 after his parole was denied seven times during his 25-to-life sentence for the first-degree murders of NYPD officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in May 1971. He had also served a concurrent sentence after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the August 1971 killing of Sgt. John Young in San Francisco.
NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill called the decision “indefensible,” while Piagentini’s widow demanded the firing of parole board members.
“We are angered and sickened that this horrible person, who was devoid of any human compassion or empathy when he continued to shoot my already wounded husband, Joseph, while he pleaded for his life for the sake of his family, will now be free to walk out of prison,” Diane Piagentini of Deer Park said in a statement released by the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which also criticized the decision.
She said the parole board “betrayed” the trust of police families and failed to protect people.
Bell was a member of the Black Liberation Army when he and two others made a bogus 911 call for help at the Colonial Park Houses in Harlem. Piagentini and Jones were hit by a total of 16 bullets, at least 12 of them striking Piagentini.
In its decision, the parole board said it believed Bell could live a law-abiding life if released. The board called his crime “one of the most supreme assaults on society” but factored in Bell’s age, years in prison, personal growth and remorse in giving him parole.
Over the years, Jones’ family has supported Bell’s parole, saying he has expressed sorrow, helped younger inmates and served enough years.
“What purpose could possibly be served by continuing his suffering?” the officer’s son, Waverly Jones Jr., wrote in February to the parole board.
Now a grandfather, Bell could join his wife in San Francisco if the state approves his release, said his attorney, Robert Boyle of Manhattan.
Boyle said Bell had turned into a calm and respectful man: “That’s the reason why he doesn’t want to make a statement to talk about joy and jubilation when he understands these officers were killed and he was responsible for it.”