NEW YORK — As the widow of NYPD Officer Joseph Piagentini cried Thursday at a police press conference, PIX11 learned the son of Waverly Jones, the other cop assassinated with Piagentini in 1971, supported the parole of Black Liberation Army radical, Herman Bell.
Although not mentioned by name in parole board documents, the son of Officer Jones advocated for Bell’s freedom, writing, “…It would bring joy and peace as we have already forgiven Herman Bell publicly. On the other hand, to deny him parole again would cause us pain as we are reminded of the painful episode each time he appears before the board.”
The 8th time before the parole board was the charm for the now 70-year-old Bell, who was convicted with two other men of the brutal, double assassination of Officers Piagentini and Jones on May 21, 1971.
The two cops, one white and the other black, were lured to a housing project in Harlem by a phony 911 call.
They were ambushed with gunshots from behind, with Jones dying instantly.
At a press conference called by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association Thursday, union president, Patrick Lynch, stood with Piagentini’s widow and now adult daughters, with the widow reminding reporters of what happened that May night.
“They were assassinated only because they wore the blue uniform,” Diane Piagentini said, her voice choking with emotion.
One of her two daughters, Deborah and Mary, wiped tears from her eyes.
Lynch pointed out that Piagentini had begged for his life, when the first bullets fired by all the men failed to kill him. Piagentini was finished off by bullets from his own police gun. All three men were convicted of murder in the 1st degree, which carried a sentence of 25 years to life—with the possibility of parole—when the defendants were convicted in the mid-1970’s.
“Pumped 22 rounds into him,” Lynch yelled. “One! Two! Three! Four! If you’ve ever shot a gun, you know how difficult that is.”
“I don’t care if you pulled the trigger, I don’t care if you drove the car, I don’t care if you carried the coffee. You killed a New York City police officer.”
Mrs. Piagentini added, “This decision has put a ‘bull’s eye’ on every officer who serves the city or country.”
Mayor Bill deBlasio—who’s had tensions with the police union in the past—agreed with Patrick Lynch that the parole decision was ill-advised:
“I’m very troubled by it,” the mayor said during a meeting at the 78 Precinct in Brooklyn. “This was a premeditated killing of a police officer. That should be life in prison. Period. There’s nothing else to discuss. I don’t understand how there possibly was parole in that situation.”
The Mayor was appearing at the precinct with First Deputy Police Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, who was a young officer just getting out of the NYPD Academy when the 1971 assassinations happened.
“We had not only Piagentini and Jones,” Tucker observed, “but Greg Foster and Rocco Laurie assassinated. Premeditated assassinations. And, of course, more recently in 2014, Ramos and Liu.”
Bell was captured two years after the 1971 shooting. Officer Piagentini’s gun had been buried on a farm in Mississippi.
The double assassination was the first in a wave of police executions around the country.
In 2007, Bell pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 1970’s era death of a San Francisco cop.
Bell had a good prison record, earning Bachelors and Masters degrees behind bars.
After years of insisting that he was a political prisoner framed for the executions, he changed his tune in 2012, during a previous parole hearing.
Two of the 3 parole board members apparently agreed he had turned his life around.
“The panel noted your regard for the pain and suffering you caused the family of the victims. You repeatedly expressed your regret and remorse for your crimes and asked for forgiveness. Your admission denoted maturation and insight; ‘There was nothing political about the act, as much as I thought at the time. It was murder and horribly wrong….it was horrible, something that I did, and feel great remorse for having done it.”
Last fall, Herman Bell filed a complaint that a state correction officer assaulted him in prison, with photos emerging of Bell with a black eye. The officer was ultimately suspended from work.
Bell has been in state prison since 1974 — 44 years.
Many years after Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones were assassinated, New York State law was finally changed to permit the sentence of life without parole for people convicted of cop killings.
Patrick Lynch is asking New Yorkers to bombard the state parole board with letters, asking it to reverse its decision.
“This parole board needs to be fired,” Lynch said. “They have lost their god----m humanity.”