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Elected officials outraged after admitted cop killer gets parole

Herman Bell killed Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in 1971 after luring the officers into an ambush


By Kayla Simas
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The New York State Parole Board's decision to release admitted cop killer Herman Bell from prison has outraged lawmakers and city officials.

Bell, a former member of a 1970s Black Liberation Army, fatally shot New York City police officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in 1971, after luring the officers into an ambush in Harlem.

In this Jan. 9, 2004 file photo, Diane Piagentini, widow of slain police officer Joseph Piagentini, holds a photo of her husband from their wedding day in 1966, after a parole hearing in New York. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff, File)
In this Jan. 9, 2004 file photo, Diane Piagentini, widow of slain police officer Joseph Piagentini, holds a photo of her husband from their wedding day in 1966, after a parole hearing in New York. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff, File)

Jones was killed with a gunshot to his head, as Piagentini was shot shot 22 times, including with his own service revolver - as the dying officer pleaded for his own life.

Over the last 47 years, according to Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill, Belle has never expressed genuine remorse.

"Every day, police officers bravely face the risk of serious injury and death in confronting armed robbers, fleeing felons and the unpredictability of domestic violence,'' said O"Neill. "But, the murders of Officers Piagentini and Jones were different. It was a horrific assault on the basic underpinnings of our society. And the parole board's unjust and irresponsible decision today renders the life portion of that sentence meaningless. Bell's victims - targeted solely for the blue uniform they wore - can never be paroled from death."

Some Staten Island elected officials spoke out about the release of Belle, stating they feel the system has failed.

"Any person involved in the murder of a police officer should never be able to walk our streets again,'' said Rep. Dan Donovan. "It's unfathomable to think that Herman Bell, a domestic terrorist and member of the Black Liberation Army, who murdered two NYPD officers - as well as a police officer from San Francisco - in cold-blood will be released on parole. This announcement not only dishonors the sacrifice of Officers Waverly Jones, Joseph Piagentini and Sgt. John Young and their families, but it also betrays the trust of the brave men and women in blue who protect and serve our communities each day. This decision is a failure of justice and contrary to the ideals of fairness and liberty that our nation was founded on."

State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, of the 64th District, also said the justice system had reached an all-time low.

"Herman Bell's heinous crime, which was both premeditated and without provocation, would earn him life in prison without parole today,'' Malliotakis said. "It is unconscionable that this murderer will be able to walk our streets again. The lack of respect shown by members of the parole board, who are all appointed by the governor, in making this decision, is absolutely outrageous and a total disgrace. My heart breaks for the families of Police Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones. While their family members' lives were cruelly taken from them while they served our city, they continue to be remembered and mourned for."

Asseblyman Ron Catorina also expressed his anger over the decision:

"This man murdered two NYPD officers in cold blood. He ruined two families. Children forced to grow up without their fathers, wives living without their husbands. What kind of message does this send to our brave men and women in the NYPD?" Assemblyman Castorina continued, "The pain and grief he caused, still present 47 years later, will never go away. The lives he ruined will never be the same. Justice should always be tempered by mercy, but there is no justice in the release of Herman Bell. Justice requires that Bell remains where he belongs, behind bars."

In 1979, Bell was sentenced to 25-years-to-life and has been before the parole board eight times. 

The earliest Bell could be released from Shawangunk Prison in Ulster County is April 17. 

©2018 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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