What to Know
- Seventy-year-old Herman Bell was convicted of killing two NYPD officers in a 1971 ambush
- A parole board granted his release earlier this week; the earliest he'd get out would be April 17
- The largest police union in New York City decried the decision as "disgraceful" and said the parole board members should be fired
The decision by members of the state parole board to let the killer of two NYPD officers walk free has members of the city’s largest police union outraged and the mayor vowing to take action.
On Wednesday, the parole board approved the release of 70-year-old Herman Bell, a former member of a 1970s black radical group who shot and killed two NYPD officers nearly 50 years ago.
Mayor de Blasio said he was “very troubled” by the news Bell would be released. “This was a premeditated killing of a police officer. That should be life in prison, period,” the mayor said Thursday at an unrelated press conference on his Vision Zero policy.
Bell and two other members of the Black Liberation Army were convicted of killing officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in 1971 after luring them to a Harlem housing complex with a bogus 911 call. Jones died instantly from a single shot. Piagentini was shot 22 times after begging for his life and telling Bell he had a wife and two daughters.
“They were assassinated only because they wore the blue uniform. No other reason,” Joseph’s emotional widow, Diane Piagentini said Thursday at a press conference with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union.
Bell was sentenced in 1979 to 25 years to life. Officials say the earliest he can be released from Shawangunk Prison in Ulster County is April 17.
The police union is calling for the parole board members who made the decision to be fired.
“It’s disgraceful,” PBA President Patrick Lynch said at the press conference. “This parole board needs to be fired. They need to be gone. They lost their goddamn humanity.”
Mayor de Blasio said he was willing to make a phone call in an effort to stop Bell’s release, but legal experts tell NBC 4 that stopping or reversing a parole board decision is highly unlikely.
“The standard for reversing the decision of the parole board is virtually unappealable and irreversible,” lawyer Michael Bachner said.
Whatever happens, Diane Piagentini says the final outcome will never end her family’s life sentence of living without a husband, father and grandfather.
“We have spent a lifetime without him,” she said.