A man convicted of killing two police officers in the 1970s was granted parole after serving 44 years, upsetting members of the New York police community who believe he should spend life behind bars, according to WCBS-TV.
Herman Bell, who was a member of the Black Liberation Army, was convicted in the 1971 murder of Officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini.
The Black Liberation Army was an offshoot of the Black Panther Party, involved in numerous violent crimes and police officer killings.
In an apparent trap by Bell and co-defendant Anthony Bottom, Jones and Piagentini were shot multiple times while responding to a domestic dispute call in Harlem.
Bell and Bottom maintained that they were framed by the FBI for years, but later admitted to the murders in parole board interviews.
Why was Bell released?
The parole board said Bell had paid his debt to society by admitting to his crime and being productive in prison, and that his release will “denote rehabilitation as core to our system of criminal justice.”
Bell earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in prison, and counseled other prisoners.
The son of one of the officers, Waverly Jones Jr., supported Bell’s release and said in 2014 that the only reason to keep Bell in prison would be for revenge.
Was there any opposition to the decision?
Diane Piagentini, the widow of one of the officers, came out strongly against the parole board’s decision to free Bell.
“How can we ask our police officers to risk their lives to protect society when society fails to appropriately punish their animalistic killers?” she asked in a statement.
Piagentini said the decision devalues her late husband’s life.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was also against the decision.
“I’m very troubled by it,” de Blasio said. “This was a premeditated killing of a police officer. That should be life in prison, period. There’s nothing else to discuss. I don’t understand how there was a possibility of parole in that situation.”
What about police officer outrage?
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill called the decision to release Bell “indefensible.”
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said union members are “disgusted, offended and extremely angry with this parole board’s decision.”
Bell is set to be freed on April 17.
NYPOST by Aaron Colen