NEW YORK — Retired Detective Joe Hall was a ‘white shield’ investigator, still not a full-fledged squad guy, when he responded to the crime scene on 1080 Liberty Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn on Palm Sunday in 1984.
He will never forget what he saw.
“In the first bedroom, there was a baby on the right, with a bullet hole in her forehead,” Hall recalled to PIX11. “In the living room, there were a couple of couches with young people slumped back. Their eyes were open, like they were watching TV. They had bullet holes in their heads.”
By the time Hall finished counting the victims with fellow detectives, they had found eight children of various ages fatally shot execution-style, along with two women. One of the females was eight months pregnant.
The case came to be known as the Palm Sunday Massacre and the NYPD eventually tracked down a suspect, Christopher Thomas, thanks to a teenaged eyewitness who saw Thomas in the house during the time of the murders.
But a jury acquitted Thomas of the top count of murder, instead convicting him of the lesser crime of manslaughter. One juror reported feeling Thomas was so pumped up with a cocaine-fueled rage that he couldn’t be liable for murder.
The judge slapped Thomas with consecutive prison terms for manslaughter, imposing a sentence of 83 to 230 years.
But New York State law has a cap for manslaughter sentences. Fifty years. And because the system allows a convict with good behavior to get out after serving two-thirds of his term, Thomas quietly walked free in January, when he was paroled, at age 68.
“I was sick to my stomach when I heard,” Joe Hall told PIX11 during an interview on Facebook Live Monday evening. “The man is out having a cheeseburger, if he wants to. It’s a disgrace.”
Decisions from New York State Parole boards have been in the news in recent weeks, with word that convicted cop killer Herman Bell, now 70, will be paroled from prison in April, after eight appearances before the board.
Bell spent 44 years in prison for the assassinations of NYPD Police Officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini in 1971, when Bell and two other members of the revolutionary Black Liberation Army lured the cops to a Harlem housing project with a phony 911 call.
The officers were ambushed from behind. Jones was killed instantly, but Piagentini, a father of two little girls, begged for his life, until he was finished off with bullets from his own, police-issued gun.
Bell and other BLA radicals went on to assassinate a police sergeant in San Francisco in August 1971.
When Bell appeared before the parole board this year, he said he had great remorse for what he’d done and had come to conclude what he did wasn’t political at all.
The son of Officer Waverly Jones had written a letter to the parole board in February, noting it would give his family “peace and joy” to have Bell released, adding that the Jones family had publicly forgiven Bell.
Bell is slated to be released as soon as April 17, and his lawyer, Robert Boyle, told PIX11 Monday “The board gave a thorough consideration of all the factors.” The board noted Bell’s age and what it considered his low likelihood of reoffending.
Christopher Thomas, in the meantime, is said to be living in Queens since his January parole for the Palm Sunday Massacre.