A former member of a Black radical group who was convicted in the 1971 killings of two NYPD officers has been granted parole after more than four decades behind bars.
Following a hearing earlier this month, the state Board of Parole approved the release of Anthony Bottom from prison on or before Oct. 20, officials said Wednesday. His parole follows that of a co-defendant, Herman Bell, in 2018.
Bottom, 68, and Bell were both sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the ambush slayings of Officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini. Bottom served nearly 43 years in prison for the killing.
In a statement, Piagentini’s widow blamed the decision on what she described as a shift in New York in recent years toward a more lenient approach to parole.
“We are heartbroken to see another of Joe’s killers set free by politics,” said Diane Piagentini. When talking with NBC New York at a Long Island park named after her husband, Piagentini was floored over the decision.
"My husband, they shot him, there were 22 bullet holes in my husband, and Bottom just kept on shooting," she said. "My husband looked at him, turned and said 'I have a wife, I have children,' but he continued to shoot."
Jones and Piagentini were shot multiple times after responding to a report of a domestic dispute at the Rangel Houses in Harlem on May 21, 1971. Prosecutors said at that time that it was a trap set by Bottom and Bell.
The two were members of a violent offshoot of the Black Panther Party called the Black Liberation Army. The group sanctioned symbolic killings of police officers, regardless of their race, in New York and California and robbed banks to finance its activities, authorities have said.
Diane Piagentini, who testifies every year at the parole hearings for the men found to be responsible for her husband's death, blames newly relaxed parole laws for Bottom being released.
"Instead of taking into consideration their horrendous crime, they are only looking at 'Oh, look at what he did in prison,'" said Piagentini.
Bell was released on parole in 2018. For years, Bottom, Bell and another co-defendant who has since died in prison claimed they were innocent and had been framed by the FBI.
Since 2017, the Police Benevolent Association said that 17 people convicted of killing police officers have been released in New York.