In May, 1971, two New York City Police Department officers — Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones — responded to a 911 call that had lured them to a housing project in Harlem.
But what they didn’t know was that they were about to be ambushed by three militant members of the Black Liberation Army. Neither officer would survive.
The three radicals — Herman Bell, Anthony Bottom and Albert Washington — were eventually convicted of both murders and sentenced to prison.
Now, almost 47 years after the horrific killings occurred, one of the killers is about to be up for parole.
Bell, 69, has been eligible for parole every two years since 2004, and his next hearing is scheduled to take place in February. Bell will turn 70 years old on Sunday.
Bell says he is remorseful for his actions, and in 2014, he even sued the parole board over its decision not to free him. Despite the fact that he recently was placed in punitive segregation for allegedly assaulting a state corrections officer, he claims he has been a model prisoner and should thus be released.
But the widow of one of his victims feels differently.
Diane Piagentini’s husband reportedly pleaded for his life to be spared, telling his killers that he had a wife and two children back at home. At the time, his two daughters were just 3 and 1, respectively.
However, that didn’t stop Bell and his fellow killers. While they murdered the other officer — Jones — with a shot in the head, they fired at Piagentini 22 times.
“Tomorrow morning, when I give my statement, my mind will be back in 1971,” Diane Piagentini told the New York Post. She was set to provide the parole board with a statement via phone on Friday.
“My two daughters will be here and we will give our statements,” she added.
Piagentini said she doesn’t think it’s possible for her husband’s murderers to be fully rehabilitated.
“Even though they are older, and they’ve been in prison for long time, I do feel like the rhetoric of the 1970s is still embedded in them. If they do come out, that is not going to go away,” she said.
Bell is up for parole in February, while Bottom is expected to appear before a parole board in June. Washington died in prison.
“To this day, I still miss him,” Piagentini said of her husband, who will never meet his two grandchildren. “He loved his job. He worked in Harlem. He was on the street. He was a very caring man.”
Like Piagentini, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch does not want Bell to ever be free.
“Bell and his partners emptied both officer’s guns into Police Officer Piagentini, who died on his way to the hospital,” Lynch said, according to the New York Daily News.
“That kind of evil cannot be rehabilitated.”
In his prior parole hearings, Bell has said he was sorry for what his actions, which also included the 1971 killing of another police officer in San Francisco. He claims he was radicalized following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“I’m not trying in any way justify what has happened, by no means,” Bell said. “I’m young, I’m impressionable, and there’s a lot that I do not understand and I’m influenced by the temper at the times, and all of those things came together and it just … I made some terrible mistakes.”
Since being in prison, Bell has earned a master’s degree in sociology and learned to play the flute.
While Piagentini wants him to remain incarcerated, Jones’ son — Waverly Jones Jr. — has said he thinks Bell should be released.
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