2 NYPD families join forces to keep 5 cop killers in prison

MANHATTAN -- When NYPD rookie cop Edward Byrne was assassinated 30 years ago, five days after his 22nd birthday, his four killers split $8,000….their “take” for the execution.

The order to “hit” a police officer came from drug enforcer Pappy Mason, who was angry he’d been sent back to jail several days before.

Byrne’s brother recalled the recorded phone call that Mason made to an associate, Phillip Copeland, from Rikers Island.

“You have to kill a cop,” Larry Byrne said, quoting Mason. “They take one of us, we take one of them.”

The execution of Byrne on February 26, 1988, as he sat alone in his patrol car in South Jamaica, Queens guarding the home of a witness, sent shock waves through the NYPD and the country.

Byrne was hit five times in the head, at close range, with gunshots. One of the four convicted killers had distracted him by going to the passenger side of the 103 Precinct police car.

Byrne’s brother recently left the NYPD, where he served as Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters for four years.

He said he will come back every two years to the New York State Parole Board on West 40th Street, to give “victim impact” statements that will remind parole commissioners of the depravity shown by his brother’s killers.

Byrne felt a special urgency Friday before he testified, and he joined another NYPD family that had just finished giving its own statement to the parole board.

Manny Jones and Gwenna Wright are the siblings of slain Police Officer Waverly Jones, who was assassinated in 1971 with his partner, Officer Joseph Piagentini, when they were lured to a Harlem housing project with a phony 911 call.

The three killers were members of the Black Liberation Army, and the radicals had made a trip here from California to kill cops.

One of the convicted murderers died in prison, but Herman Bell—at age 70—was released from a New York State prison in April.

Two of the three parole commissioners who voted to free him cited his exemplary prison record, the college degrees he earned, the fellow inmates he had helped, his advancing age, and a letter from one of Officer Jones’ sons, who said he wanted Bell freed after 44 years.

The commissioners said they were also following the spirit of new parole guidelines from 2011, instituted by Governor Andrew Cuomo, which said an inmate’s rehabilitation should be evaluated, regardless of the crime that sent him to prison.

“He absolutely made a mistake on this one,” police union president, Patrick Lynch, said outside the Parole Board’s Manhattan offices on Friday. “It’s time he corrects the mistake.”

The last of the Jones/Piagentini killers to remain in prison is Anthony Bottom, and he’s expected to face the parole commissioners next month.

The four convicts still in prison on the Byrne case are also supposed to have dates with the Parole Board.

And they will get that meeting every two years, because all five of the killers were sentenced during a time when New York State law did not provide for a punishment of life without parole for the murder of a law enforcement officer.

The law has since changed.