ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A New York judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to block the parole of an ex-radical who fatally shot two New York City police officers in 1971.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard Koweek ruled Friday that the state Parole Board did not act irrationally or outside its bounds when it granted parole last month to Herman Bell after he served 44 years.
The 70-year-old Bell had been scheduled to be released this week before the legal challenge was filed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association on behalf of Diane Piagentini, widow of one of the slain officers. Her lawyers had argued the parole board didn’t follow proper protocols.
In his ruling, Koweek wrote that the widow did not have legal standing to challenge the board’s decision. He also concluded that in order to overturn the Parole Board’s decision a court must find it acted with “irrationality bordering on impropriety.”
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“Nothing that is supplied in this case persuades this Court that the actions of the Parole Board meet that standard,” he wrote.
In a statement, the PBA said it would appeal the ruling, which PBA President Patrick J. Lynch called “outrageous.” Diane Piagentini said her family is devastated that the judge “turned a blind eye to the Parole Board’s illegal actions.”
“Not only have they compounded the pain and suffering we have experienced since my husband’s death, they have also put the safety of the public in jeopardy by releasing a vicious killer like Herman Bell,” she said.
The decision to parole Bell has been widely criticized by Republican state lawmakers. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that while he disagreed with the decision, the Parole Board isn’t not subject to his direct control.
“If I were on the parole board I would not have made that decision,” he told reporters. “The Parole Board is an independent board but I would not have made that decision.”
Supporters of the decision note that Bell was properly eligible for parole, and that continuing to incarcerate an elderly man was an unwarranted use of state resources.
Bell and two other members of the Black Liberation Army, a violent offshoot of the Black Panther Party, were convicted of killing officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini after luring them to a Harlem housing development with a bogus 911 call. Authorities say both officers were shot multiple times, with Piagentini hit by more than 20 bullets.
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.
It was unclear Friday afternoon when Bell would be released.
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.