NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Convicted cop killer Herman Bell, who fatally shot two NYPD officers in 1971, was released on parole Friday after efforts to keep him in prison failed.
State prison officials say they’re abiding by an appellate judge’s decision Wednesday that denied a police union’s request for a temporary restraining order to keep 70-year-old Herman Bell behind bars.
Word of Bell’s parole sparked outrage.
“I don’t want a murderer in my damn neighborhood nor do you,” Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said at a news conference earlier Friday. “This is not politics by any means. This is ignorance by all means.”
Lynch condemned the parole board’s decision to release Bell and said they will “continue to fight in court.”
“The parole board has lost their goddamn humanity to think that a murderer should walk their streets,” he said.
On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo office issued a statement about Bell.
“The Governor has repeatedly stated that he disagrees with the decision of the Parole Board – which is an independent body – to release Herman Bell and despite ongoing litigation against the state, the Executive Chamber had previously agreed to a meeting with Mrs. Piagenitni,” it read. “We will renew our offer.”
During Bell’s eighth parole hearing in early March, the state parole board approved Bell’s release from Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, determining “his debt has been paid to society.”
Board members took into consideration his stated remorse for killing the officers and the fact he had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees while in prison and counseled other inmates.
In 1971, Officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini had responded to what they thought was a real 911 call. Instead, they walked into an ambush at a Harlem housing complex.
Authorities say both officers were shot multiple times, with Piagentini hit by more than 20 bullets. Bell and two other members of the Black Liberation Army were convicted of the murders.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo appoints parole board members and has said he disagrees with their decision in this case, but the board is independent.
“This governor is doing nothing but cow towing down to the lowest common denominator in society and that’s criminals,” said Republican State Senator Marty Golden (R-Brooklyn.)
Piagentini’s widow Diane Piagentini released a statement through the PBA Friday also calling out Cuomo, saying he “has time to issue an executive order to give parolees the right to vote, but not to meet with us.”
Last month, Diane Piagentini, among others, were outraged to learn that the board had granted parole.
“They were assassinated because they wore the blue uniform,” she said. “No other reason.”
The board told Bell there is “reasonable probability that if released, you will remain at liberty without violating the law.”
Bell’s supporters, including some members of Officer Jones’ own family, say he’s a changed man and deserves to be released. Jones’ own son asked Bell’s attorney to read a statement on his behalf last month.
“The fact is that Mr. Bell has taken responsibility for his actions, has expressed genuine remorse, is 70 years old, and has been in prison for 45 years,” attorney Robert Boyle read. “In these times of increased hate, we need more compassion and forgiveness.”
Diane Piagentini and the PBA went to court trying to block Bell’s release, but a judge denied the request.
The PBA says next is the full appellate panel will hear their case and they hope Bell will return to prison while the appeal moves forward.
Bell also pleaded guilty to killing a police sergeant in California.
One of Bell’s co-defendants has since died in prison while the other, Anthony Bottom, is serving 25 years to life at maximum-security Sullivan Correctional Facility in Sullivan County. Bottom, 66, is due for a parole hearing in June.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)