12/06/2010

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Charles Remsberg10-8: Life on the Line
with Charles Remsberg

Mercy for this old, sick inmate?

Henry Gargano, confined to a federal medical correctional center in North Carolina, is 78 years old and in failing health. He’s had two heart attacks, suffers from emphysema, and takes at least a dozen medications. He’s been in prison for more than 40 years.

His record shows “clear conduct” for more than a decade, and his case manager has described him as “not a problem” but instead “a calming influence.” That examiner believes it’s unlikely he’ll ever again engage in criminal activity. Plus it’s costing two to three times more each year to keep him imprisoned than it does healthier, younger inmates.

He’s up for parole on Monday, December 13, 2010. What do you think? Time for a little compassion? Isn’t justice supposed to be tempered with mercy? Oh, did I mention that he killed two cops?

Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a national organization that promotes “criminal justice reforms,” suggests that’s less of an issue than some of us might think.

“There’s no question” that Gargano committed “a serious crime,” Mauer said in a Chicago Tribune report earlier this week. But “how much punishment is enough? It would be hard to argue that he hasn’t served a significant period of time. This is not exactly a slap on the wrist.”

Enough?

Let’s roll back the tape on Henry Gargano. Sent to juvie in Illinois at 14 for burglarizing a restaurant. At 17, he robbed a grocery store with a sawed-off shotgun. At 20, committed armed robbery of a law firm and at 24, knocked over an Indiana bank. Escaped from prison for a few days and was still paroled before completing his full 18-year sentence.

A few months after his release, he and three others are believed to have robbed a supermarket in Ohio. They escaped after shooting two police officers. Two weeks later, Gargano and two accomplices stormed into a bank in Northlake, Ill., brandishing a BAR, a Winchester rifle, and several handguns.

Escaping with more than $83,000, they opened fire on responding officers in the parking lot before the cops’ cars were even stopped. After an estimated 100 rounds were fired, Det. Sgt. John Nagle and Ofcr. Anthony Perri lay dead and two other officers wounded. Numerous witnesses stated that they saw Gargano “stand over the wounded Perri and fire several bullets into the officer’s body.”

Less than a year later as Gargano was being brought to court for a hearing on the murders, correctional officers discovered a loaded revolver concealed on his person. After he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 199 years, he escaped from a maximum security federal prison in southern Illinois and took a farm family hostage. After he was caught and five years added to his sentence, he tried twice more to break out.

During an interview that took place between escape attempts, he told a Tribune reporter, “I don’t feel any remorse about those dead cops. When you get hit or you hit someone in a shootout, that’s a fair confrontation, like in Vietnam. It can’t be helped.”

During Gargano’s formative criminal years, his own father worked as a campus officer at a university in Chicago.

Northlake PD’s deputy chief, Norman Nissen Jr., leads the opposition to Gargano’s bid for parole. “Just because he’s decided for the last 10 years to stop escaping from prison and start abiding by the rules, that doesn’t forgive killing police officers and depriving their families,” Nissen says.

Enough time served?

Even moldering in their graves, Henry Gargano and his ilk will never pay enough.

About the author

Charles Remsberg co-founded the original Street Survival Seminar and the Street Survival Newsline, authored three of the best-selling law enforcement training textbooks, and helped produce numerous award-winning training videos. His nearly three decades of work earned him the prestigious O.W. Wilson Award for outstanding contributions to law enforcement and the American Police Hall of Fame Honor Award for distinguished achievement in public service.

Buy Charles Remsberg's latest book, Blood Lessons, which takes you inside more than 20 unforgettable confrontations where officers' lives are on the line.
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