A former member of the Black Liberation Army convicted of killing two New York City police officers nearly 50 years ago has been released from prison on parole after efforts to keep him incarcerated failed.
Herman Bell, 70, was freed from maximum-security Shawangunk Correctional Facility in upstate New York on Friday at approximately 5 p.m. He was initially scheduled to be let out on April 17, but his exit was delayed after the police union appealed the Parole Board’s decision on behalf of the widow of one of the slain cops.
“The parole board has lost their [expletive] humanity to think that a murderer should walk their streets,” said Patrick Lynch, President of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, which represents most officers in the New York Police Department (NYPD).
Bell’s discharge was also opposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed 11 of the parole board’s 14 members, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who insisted that cop killers should get “life in prison. Period. [There’s] nothing else to discuss.”
On May 21, 1971, Bell and two other Black Liberation Army revolutionaries ambushed NYPD Officers Joseph Piagentini, 28, and Waverly Jones, 33, after luring them to a Harlem housing project with a hoax 911 call.
The New York Post reported:
As the unsuspecting cops approached, the three opened fire — for no other reason than because they were cops. Jones died instantly and Piagentini, who was already hit 12 times, begged for his life, noting that he had a wife and two young daughters at home. Instead, Bell finished him off with his own service weapon.
Just months later, Bell struck again — killing San Francisco police Sgt. John Young in a Black Liberation Army assault on a station in that city.
Today, Bell would be sentenced to life without parole for the New York slayings — but that option was unavailable during his 1975 trial.
According to The New York Times, Bell “claimed at trial that the violence was part of their war against the United States.” The murderous trio was each convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.
For decades, he claimed to be a political prisoner who was framed and did not confess to the killings until 2012. It was not until Bell’s parole hearing in March, after renouncing his motivations for the premeditated murders, that he was finally granted parole. It was his eighth appearance before the board since 2004.
“There was nothing political about the act, as much as I thought at the time. It was murder and horribly wrong.” Bell is quoted as saying in his most recent parole interview. “It was horrible, something that I did, and feel great remorse for having done it.”