Ex-militants who admit killing NY cops seek parole

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Ex-militants who admit killing NY cops seek parole
Herman Bell is seen in a 1998 photo provided by the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Bell , currently in jail, was one of eight men charged with murder and conspiracy in the 1971 killing of a police officer that authorities say was part of a black power group's five-year effort to attack and kill law enforcement officers in San Francisco and New York. Police said seven of the eight are believed to be former members of the Black Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Black Panther Party. (AP Photo/New York State Department of Correctional Services)
Herman Bell, center, one of the FBI's ten most wanted, is escorted by federal officers to the magistrate court in New Orleans, Sept. 3, 1973 where bond was set at $500,000. Bell is wanted in New York City in connection with the murder of two policemen and in San Francisco on a bank robbery warrant.. (AP Photo)
Herman Bell is shown following his capture, Sept. 1, 1973 in New Orleans. Bell, one of the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives, is wanted in connection with the killing of two New York City policemen and for bank robbery. (AP Photo)
Herman Bell glares at newsmen following his capture, Sept. 1, 1973 in New Orleans. Bell, one of the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives, glares at the cameras as he is held by a federal marshal following his capture in New Orleans is wanted in connection with the killing of two New York City policemen and for bank robbery. (AP Photo)
Anthony Bottom is seen in this undated photo provided by the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Bottom, currently in jail, was one of eight men charged with murder and conspiracy in the 1971 killing of a police officer that authorities say was part of a black power group's five-year effort to attack and kill law enforcement officers in San Francisco and New York. Police said seven of the eight are believed to be former members of the Black Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Black Panther Party. (AP Photo/New York State Department of Correctional Services)
Diane Piagentini, widow of slain police officer Joseph Piagentini, with her daughter Mary Piagentini looking on at right, speaks after a parole hearing, Friday, Jan. 9, 2004 in New York, to ask that the killers of her husband and his partner not be released on parole. Piagentini his partner Waverly Jones were killed in 1971 by members of the Black Liberation Army. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)
PBA President Patrick Lynch, left, points in the direction where a parole hearing took place, Friday, Jan. 9, 2004, in New York, as Diane Piagentini, second from right, widow of slain police officer Joseph Piagentini, and Robert Piagentini, right, brother of the slain officer, look on. They are asking that the killers, members of the Black Liberation Army, not be released on parole after being sentenced to 25 years to life in the 1971 killings of New York City Police Officers Piagentini and his partnerWaverly Jones. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)
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, Friday, Jan. 9, 2004 in New York, to ask that the killers of her husband and his partner not be released on parole. Officers Piagentini and Waverly Jones were killed in 1971 by members of the Black Liberation Army. At right is Robert Piagentini, brother of the slain officer. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)
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NEW YORK (AP) - Since they became eligible for parole a decade ago, two aging ex-members of a militant black power group serving 25-years-to-life sentences for the 1971 killings of two New York City police officers have been routinely rejected for release after displaying little or no remorse.

Starting this week, Herman Bell and Anthony Bottom will again go before the state Parole Board to ask for freedom. But this time, it will be after admitting for the first time that they were involved in the execution-style slayings.

The admissions have reignited a debate over whether the men, who still call themselves political prisoners, have become rehabilitated after four decades in prison or are simply more willing to game the system.

"As long as they keep admitting they're political prisoners, then they aren't taking responsibility for their actions," said Diane Piagentini, the widow of one of the slain officers who still lives in the same Long Island home she bought with him before he was killed at 28. "They should never be paroled."

The case dates to the late 1960s and early '70s, when a violent offshoot of the Black Panthers called the Black Liberation Army sanctioned symbolic killings of police officers regardless of their race in New York and California and robbed banks to finance its activities, authorities have said. Declassified documents show the FBI then initiated a covert campaign to infiltrate and disrupt the BLA and other violent radical movements.

BLA members Bell, Bottom and an accomplice, who died in prison in 2000, called themselves the "New York 3." They denied killing the officers and insisted they'd been framed during their trial and after their convictions in 1975. Five years ago, they accepted plea deals and served probation sentences for their roles in the killing of a police sergeant shot inside a San Francisco stationhouse.

In their 2012 appearances before parole officials, both men admitted their roles in killing officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones, 33. The officers were shot multiple times after they'd responded to a report of a domestic dispute at a Harlem housing complex on May 21, 1971. Prosecutors said it was a trap set by Bell and Bottom.

"I began to see things in a way that I wanted to come clean," Bell said in 2012, according to a transcript. "I wanted to accept that fact that I committed this offense, I wanted to show remorse, but I didn't really know how to express that to the Board."

When pressed on why he'd maintained his innocence for so long, Bottom said, according to his transcript, "Who wants to acknowledge, who really wants to deal with the issues of killing another human being?"

Since being incarcerated, Bell, 66, has earned bachelor's and master's degrees, has learned to play the flute and corresponds with homeless New York City children. Bottom, now 62, has also earned a college degree, was credited with stopping prison riots and helped found an organic farm operation that brings healthy food to poor families.

Assessments have found both men to have a low risk of returning to prison, and each claims to have family support and job opportunities awaiting them on the outside.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the son of one of the officers, Waverly Jones Jr., has written in support of their release and told the Daily News of New York last month that Bell had served decades without getting "into so much as an argument."

Others are also pushing for the pair's release.

"If you want to talk about justice, it's been served," said Anne Lamb, the New York City co-chairwoman of The Jericho Movement, a group that advocates for political prisoners. "They have no reason to hold them in prison. It's not going to bring back Officer Piagentini or Officer Waverly Jones."

Advocates for the men argue the state Parole Board is unduly swayed by the powerful Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and others who exert pressure on parole denials even after the convicts serve their minimum sentences and meet all the other criteria required for release.

But the PBA is unfazed by the criticism and since September 2012 has maintained a website that has generated about 850,000 letters urging commissioners not to release Bell, Bottom and others convicted of killing a total of some 66 city officers.

Organizers hope to reach a million letters by next week, when Bell goes before the board for a sixth time. Bottom appears for his seventh time in June.
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