state parole board last month approved the release of Herman Bell for
next Wednesday but the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association filed a
lawsuit on behalf of a widow of one of the slain officers to try to keep
him in jail.
PBA lawyers argued Friday that the parole board should have
considered Diane Piagentini's victim impact statement, while lawyers for
the state argued that the parole board did its job.
Court Justice Richard Koweek said he would start reviewing Friday's
arguments on Monday. He said his temporary restraining order granted in
the PBA's lawsuit seeking to halt Bell's release remains in effect,
essentially keeping the 70-year-old Bell behind bars until the judge
issues a decision.
Bell has served 44 years for his role in the
fatal shootings of officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini at a
Harlem housing development.
Bell and two other members of the
Black Liberation Army, a violent offshoot of the Black Panther Party,
were convicted of killing Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini after
luring he officers to the housing development with a bogus 911 call.
Authorities say both officers were shot multiple times, with Piagentini
hit by more than 20 bullets.
During Bell's eighth parole hearing
in early March, the state parole board approved Bell's release from
Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, determining "his debt
has been paid to society." Board members took into consideration his
stated remorse for killing the officers and the fact he had earned
bachelor's and master's degrees while in prison and counseled other
The officers' union says Bell should be kept in prison.
The lawsuit against the state contends parole board members failed to
consider, as required under state law, the comments of the sentencing
judge and prosecutors, who indicated Bell should never be released from
prison. The board also didn't consider the victim impact statement she
submitted, her lawyers argued.
Parole board members can consider
many factors, but "it doesn't give them the right to act outside the
law," said Mitch Garber, Piagentini's lawyer.
The lawsuit also seeks a new parole board to reconsider whether Bell is eligible for parole.
McMahon, the assistant attorney general handling the case for the
state, argued that relatives of a crime victim have no standing when it
comes to the parole process other than to submit impact statements.
Piagentini and her two daughters sat in the front row of the courtroom
along with leaders of the PBA of the City of New York.
Bell's co-defendants has since died in prison while the other, Anthony
Bottom, is serving 25 years to life at maximum-security Sullivan
Correctional Facility in Sullivan County. Bottom, 66, is due for a
parole hearing in June.