ALBANY, N.Y. — The scheduled prison release of a former member of a violent 1970s radical group who killed two New York City police officers in 1971 has been put on hold by a state court.
State Supreme Court in Albany issued a temporary restraining order halting Herman Bell’s release after the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association of the City of New York requested the order in a lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of Diane Piagentini, widow of one of the slain officers.
The state parole board last month approved Bell’s release from a maximum-security prison in upstate New York. The 70-year-old former Black Liberation Army member has served 44 years for fatally shooting officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini at a Harlem housing development.
Bell was scheduled to be released April 17. The court order puts his release on hold pending an April 13 hearing on the lawsuit.
The PBA’s lawsuit against the parole board contends board members failed to consider the comments of the sentencing judge and prosecutors, who indicated Bell should never be released from prison. Parole was granted after Bell’s eighth parole hearing.
PBA President Patrick Lynch said the parole board “blew the call” by approving Bell’s release. He called Bell a “cold-blooded assassin” whose parole must be rescinded.
“Parole may be appropriate for some who have committed crime, but it is not for cold-blooded cop-killers,” Diane Piagentini said in a statement released by the PBA.
Bell’s Manhattan attorney, Robert Boyle, called the lawsuit frivolous and said it shouldn’t impede Bell’s release from Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County.
“The parole board considered everything they were required under the law to consider,” Boyle told The Associated Press. “Their decision was in accordance with the law.”
State correction officials say the agency is complying with the court’s order. The parole board is being represented in the lawsuit by state attorney general’s office, which didn’t respond to a request for comment
Bell and two other members of the BLA, a violent offshoot of the Black Panther Party, were convicted of killing the officers after luring them with a bogus 911 call. Co-defendant Anthony Bottom is serving 25 years to life but is scheduled for a parole hearing in June. The third accomplice has since died in prison. — (AP)
During his last parole interview, Bell called the slayings “horribly wrong” and said he had remorse for killing the officers. Bell has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees while in prison and counseled other inmates, factors that were considered as part of the parole board’s decision that his “debt has been paid to society.” — (AP)