What to Know
- Herman Bell has served more than 40 years for his role in the fatal shootings of officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini in 1971
- Last month, the state parole board approved Bell's release for April 18, but the PBA sued on a behalf of a widow to keep him in jail
- A New York judge dismissed that lawsuit last week and Bell is now scheduled to be released Friday
Herman Bell, who shot and killed two New York City police officers decades ago, has been released from prison amid uproar over his parole.
Bell was released from Shawangunk prison in Ulster County as scheduled Friday afternoon, according to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision website. He will be supervised for life in Brooklyn, a DOCC spokesman said.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association tried to block Bell's release last month, but an appellate judge in Albany rejected the legal motion. However, the police union has filed a new motion that will be heard next week by a full panel of appellate judges to keep Bell in prison.
"The parole board has lost their [expletive] humanity to think that a murderer should walk their streets," PBA President Pat Lynch said angrily at a news conference Friday ahead of Bell's release.
Bell was scheduled to be released last week, but the PBA had that delayed after an appeal on behalf of Diane Piagentini, widow of one of the slain officers. Her lawyers had argued the parole board didn't follow proper protocols.
However, state Supreme Court Justice Richard Koweek ruled the state Parole Board did not act irrationally or outside its bounds when it granted parole to Bell.
Piagentini said in a statement Friday, "The parole board did not take into account his mental stability. He is a planner and a manipulator... he manipulated the parole board to release him."
The PBA claims the 70-year-old has ties to terror groups and has taken to the internet to support terror attacks. In a statement Friday, the police union called on the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo “to take action to fix the broken New York State Parole Board system.” The PBA said the decision to parole Bell was “flawed and illegal.”
“The current parole process contains gigantic loopholes that allow murderous monsters like Herman Bell to game the system by concocting a phony story tailor-made for the new parole guidelines, which don’t place enough weight on the nature of the crime,” Lynch said in press release, adding that the city’s “PBA will seek legislation that will close these loopholes and prevent other cop-killers from stepping foot outside prison walls.”
Piagentini also rebuked Cuomo saying that “there are no word to describe the outrage and disappointment in Governor Cuomo” for not rescinding Bell’s release.
Brooklyn state senator Martin J. Golden said in a statement, "We must immediately fix the broken parole system to ensure that criminals who deserve to be in prison stay in prison. I stand with PBA President Pat Lynch and all law enforcement members as we fight to right this wrong."
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 in 1971. Authorities say both officers were shot multiple times, with Piagentini hit by more than 20 bullets.
Bell has spent more than 40 years in prison. 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.
The decision to parole Bell has been widely criticized by Republican state lawmakers. Gov. Cuomo said 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.
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.