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April 2, 2018

Beyond Redemption

By Len Levitt

In a last-gasp attempt, the PBA is calling on the State Parole Board chairwoman to delay the scheduled April 17th release of cop-killer Herman Bell, citing the board’s failure “to obtain and consider” the sentencing minutes in his trial.

Those minutes, according to the PBA, include the recommendations of the case’s prosecutor and the sentencing judge that, had the death penalty been in effect when the killing occurred in 1971, Bell should have received it. The minutes also include a statement by a defense attorney that Bell was “beyond redemption and can never be rehabilitated.”

Bell and Anthony Bottom, who is up for parole consideration in June, were members of the Black Liberation Army, an off-shoot of the Black Panther Party. The two, and a third man who died in prison, shot and killed NYPD Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in May, 1971, during another period of national racial turmoil.

The killers stole Jones’s weapon, which BLA members used three months later to shoot and kill San Francisco Sgt. John Victor Young. Law enforcement fraternal orders say the BLA was responsible for the deaths of 10 officers around the country between 1970 and 1976, including NYPD cops Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie, who they gunned down in the East Village in 1972.

In 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo altered parole board guidelines to include an applicant’s behavior while in prison and “to weigh any demonstrated growth and maturing since the time of the offence when considering individuals serving a maximum life sentence for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.”

Bell, who is now 70, was 23 when he and Bottom shot and killed Jones and Piagentini.

After denying for four decades that he was involved in the shootings, Bell first admitted his involvement in 2014. Last month at his parole hearing he said, “There was nothing political about the act, as much as I thought at the time. It was murder and horribly wrong.”

Cuomo has said through a spokesperson that he opposes Bell’s release. Mayor Bill de Blasio was more forceful, saying, “Murdering a police officer in cold blood is a crime beyond the frontier of rehabilitation or redemption.”

One organization that justified Bell’s parole was the NY Times editorial board, which wrote in an editorial on March 18 that Bell had “expressed regret and remorse,” although it did describe his regret and remorse as “long in coming.”

The editorial then cited the cases of two white women, Kathy Boudin and Judith Clark, who were part of another BLA team that fatally shot two police officers and a guard during the robbery of a Brink’s armored car in 1981. Although neither woman fired a shot, said the Times, “they both went on to become model prisoners who expressed remorse for their actions.”

Boudin was paroled in 2003, the Times pointed out. Clark was denied parole last year despite having had her sentence commuted by Cuomo in 2016. Go figure that one out.

As for Bell and Bottom, they shot Jones in the head. They shot Piagentini 22 times, as he lay on the ground, pleading for his life as a father of two small children.