NEW YORK — Larry Byrne was working as a young, federal prosecutor when he got horrific news in the early hours of Feb. 26, 1988.
His younger brother, Edward — who had turned 22 years old just five days before — had been assassinated in his NYPD patrol car.
“These four defendants fired five shots that were heard around the world,” Larry Byrne recalled Friday.
And he wasn’t exaggerating.
Four members of a crack cocaine gang in South Jamaica, Queens — Scott Cobb, Philip Copeland, David McClary, and Todd Scott — were convicted of the brutal execution of rookie cop Byrne, who was sitting alone in his police car at the corner of 107th Avenue and Inwood Street in Queens.
Byrne was guarding the home of a drug witness, whose house had previously been firebombed.
The four men who snuck up on Byrne’s car had been promised $8,000 from jailed drug lieutenant, Pappy Mason, who was angry that police had re-arrested him and put him back behind bars.
Todd Scott later made a video statement admitting he was the guy who distracted Byrne, by waving from the passenger side window of the patrol car.
Philip Copeland was convicted of delivering the assassination order from Pappy Mason.
David McClary was the convicted shooter, who pumped five bullets at close range into Byrne’s head from the driver’s side window. Scott Cobb was the getaway driver.
Twenty-eight years later, the convicted killers are making their third bid for parole because they were sentenced under an older New York State law: 25 years to life for anyone convicted of murder.
A number of years after the Byrne assassination, the New York State legislature passed a new statute: Murder in the first degree of a police officer. It allows for a sentence of life without parole.
But this newer law doesn’t apply to Byrne’s killers.
“It’s very sad to come back every two years,” Larry Byrne—now a Deputy Commissioner with the NYPD—told PIX11 News. “But I’m very proud to do it. But for my mother, it’s crushing. It was crushing for my father, who passed away last year. He died with the fear that someday these people would be released from prison.”
Byrne’s murder galvanized New York City — which was buckling under the weight of crack-fueled gun violence in the late 1980’s.
Within six months of Byrne’s assassination, the FBI joined the NYPD to raid family homes connected to drug lord Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols, where Fat Cat’s sister—and even his mother—were involved in the bagging of crack cocaine vials.
When the city’s homicide rate reached a staggering 2, 245 killings in the early 1990’s, then-Mayor David Dinkins added several thousand more officers to patrol operations, in an effort known as “Safe Streets, Safe City.”
Byrne’s killers will appear before parole commissioners in their respective prisons in the next month or so.
The President of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association—Patrick Lynch—appeared with Byrne’s brother at the parole hearing Friday and told reporters outside it’s the job of his union—and the department—to keep the city informed of what happened in 1988.
“They sent a message that day; we’re going to kill a police officer,” Lynch said. “Well, we now got you! And we will not forget.”
Since Larry Byrne started his position as Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters, he had attended four, NYPD funerals.
Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were assassinated in their patrol car in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, 2014 — by an enraged gunman from Baltimore who was upset about police-involved deaths of African American men.
Months later, Detective Brian Moore was killed during a gun battle in Queens.
Detective Randolph Holder was fatally shot during a chase in Harlem not long after.