Twelve days before the scheduled release of former Black Panther Herman Bell from prison April 17, a state court judge has put Bell’s parole on hold. The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association on behalf of Diane Piagentini, widow of one of the officers killed in 1971.
Bell, 70, along with Albert Washington and Jalil Muntaqim (Anthony Bottom) were convicted in the 1971 killing of two New York City cops. Each got a sentence of 25 years to life.
Washington died in prison in 2000. Bell has been incarcerated for over 44 years and was assaulted by prison guards last September.
In early March the parole board on its eighth hearing on Bell’s case granted him parole. Impacting their decision was a letter to the board from Waverly Jones Jr., the son of one of the officers killed, urging Bell’s release. “It would bring joy and peace as we have already forgiven Herman Bell publicly,” he wrote.
The parole board’s decision was blasted by the cops and editors of the New York Daily News and New York Post. New York’s liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote a letter backing the cops, urging the state parole board to reverse its decision.
The PBA’s lawsuit contends parole board members failed to consider remarks made by the sentencing judge and prosecutors 43 years ago that they didn’t think Bell should ever be released from prison. The PBA has campaigned against Bell’s release at every one of his parole hearings.
Bell’s attorney, Robert Boyle, called the suit frivolous. “The parole board considered everything they were required under the law to consider,” Boyle told The Associated Press.
A hearing on the suit is set for April 13 to decide whether to dismiss the case or allow it to continue. If it’s dismissed, Bell’s stay in prison will be prolonged for a few more weeks.
Meanwhile, Muntaqim is scheduled for his next parole hearing in June.
The release of Bell and Muntaqim would be an important advance for prisoners’ rights and political rights.