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Judge orders release of N.Y. officer, corruption witness who has served 31 years

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- A judge told the state parole board Thursday to free a former city police officer who was a key witness at corruption hearings in the 1970s and has been in prison 31 years.

The former officer, William R. Phillips, star witness at the Knapp Commission hearings on police corruption, is serving 25 years to life after 1974 convictions on two counts of murder and one of attempted murder.

Phillips, who is 75 and has prostate cancer, has been denied parole four times, the latest refusal coming Sept. 15, 2005. After that rejection, he petitioned the court, saying the parole board's action was "arbitrary and capricious" and was in effect a "resentencing."

Manhattan state court Justice Marcy Friedman ordered the board to give Phillips a new hearing and then release him. She said he had shown the board's denial "was so irrational as to border on impropriety and should be annulled."

The judge said the parole board recognized at the September 2005 hearing that Phillips "can do no more to rehabilitate himself and is not a threat to society."

A spokesman for the state Division of Parole, Scott Steinhardt, said his agency would not comment on ongoing litigation.

Phillips was a police officer from 1957 to 1974, when he was arrested on suspicion of accepting protection money from a prostitution operation. Because he appeared on television in connection with his Knapp Commission testimony, he was identified as the person wanted for killing a pimp and a prostitute and trying to kill a third person.

At his fourth parole hearing, Phillips expressed deep remorse for his crimes, the judge said. She said he presented evidence of his unblemished record during his 31 years in maximum-security institutions.

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