[News] Herman Bell Parole
News at freedomarchives.org
News at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 2 08:39:21 EST 2004
Cop's Family Split on Parole
By Sean Gardiner
January 31, 2004, 6:14 PM EST
Next week, Herman Bell will come before the state's Parole Board for the
first time since hee was incarcerated more than 30 years ago to ask for
Bell's case recalls another era: Two cops shot dead in an ambush meant as a
symbolic backlash by the Black Liberation Army against the establishment.
So it is not surprising that his parole request has sparked a groundswell
of opposition from family members of Officers Joseph Piagentiini and
Waverly Jones, other cops and many city officials.
What is surprising is that Herman Bell's best chance at freedom may come
from another faction of Jones' family, two children who believe Bell
deserves a last chance at life outside prison.
The parole issue has added another layer of hurt to the tragic story of the
cops' deaths. It has divided the two families of Waverly Jones, families
that never knew about each other until his death, but became one large,
tight-knit family in the years after.
On one side now stand Jones' siblings, who, with his late wife Mary and
son, have always remained steadfastly opposed to parole for the killers.
"My brother's not coming back, Joseph Piagentini's not coming back," said
Jones' sister, Glenna Wright, an administrative assistant for the New York
Catholic Archdiocese. "They should be let out of jail only after I see
those two walk into this house. And that's not going to happen."
On the other side stand Jones' other family, Mary Green and her two
children, Waverly Jr. and Wanda.
"I really would like to meet and I'd like to see him and know what he's
been doing, just find out what he has been doing in his life," said Wanda
Jones, 33, the daughter of the slain officer and Mary Green, who didn't
find out Waverly Jones was married until the night of his murder.
"I don't have any hatred for at all in my heart or for any of them, and I
want their families to have them back."
UNITED, THEN TORN APART. Shortly after Jones and Piagentini walked into the
May 21, 1971, fatal ambush outside the Colonial Park Houses across the
street from what had been the Polo Grounds in Harlem, Jones' widow, Mary
Jones, discovered her husband had fathered two children with a woman she
never knew existed.
A month after the killings, she arrived at Mary Green's apartment with her
own two kids in tow.
"She came looking for me," Mary Green said. "She brought her two kids and
she met my two kids. When she looked at them she said, 'Wow, they look just
like him .'"
The two Marys became close friends, as did their children. Along with
Waverly's brother and three sisters, the clan over the years celebrated
holidays and birthdays together, held family reunions and generally
supported one another as they struggled in their own way with Waverly
In 1997, Mary Jones died of cancer, and the couple's son, McCoy, drowned in
the Bronx a few years ago.
Mary Green, meanwhile, moved with Wanda and Waverly Jr. to Richmond, Va.,
two years ago.
Despite the distance between them, all of the Joneses still consider
themselves a tight family.
When told that Mary Green and the children would argue for parole, Jones'
brother Manny could say only, "Really? Because they've been in prison so
long? Hell, no."
Glenna Wright also was taken aback.
"I don't agree with their thinking at all," she said. "And my sisters don't
agree with their thinking at all. ... Wanda and Waverly were babies so what
do they know? They were babies, they don't know any better."
Both Waverly Jr., who was only a month old at the time of the attack, and
Wanda, who wasn't yet 18 months, anticipated that response.
They say they understand the bitterness that the Piagentinis and members of
their family feel.
In fact, Wanda Jones felt the same way for years.
"It was very hard," she said. "I was a little girl and I wanted my daddy;
every little girl wants their daddy. I felt abandoned and alone and I
didn't feel safe.
"If someone can take my father away they can take me away, too. I always
felt like that."
Wanda remembers that as a teenager she watched the television movie about
the slayings at least six times. "Badge of the Assassin" starred James
Woods as prosecutor Robert Tanenbaum. In a passionate plea to deny parole
for Bell, Woods wrote two weeks ago to The New York Post: "We should be men
enough to keep Herman Bell in jail for life and a day and then bury him
in the unmarked grave he sso richly deserves."
Wanda hoped the film would teach her something about the father she never knew.
"I was watching the person that was supposed to be my father and how he
interacted with people," she said.
The images of the actors who portrayed Bell and his cohorts callously
bragging and celebrating after the murders remained in her memory but the
movie didn't teach her much new about her father.
Waverly Jr. said the fact that he didn't know his father has allowed him to
look at his father's slaying in a more analytical way.
"I do know my uncle and aunts," Waverly Jr. said. "They don't research
anything. They don't go and study the history and the climate and the
facts. They just know that they lost their brother, that these were the
guys who they said did it and they wished they'd be given the death penalty
and rot in hell. That's what their emotions are telling them."
Waverly Jr. said that long ago he made up his mind to try to "rise above my
own emotion" and investigate his father's slaying with an objective eye.
A VOLATILE TIME IN NEW YORK. In researching the slayings, Waverly Jr., who
works in a bank, said he found that "it was a volatile time in New York
City, the height of police brutality. It was raging at that time and I know
the frustration that many black people felt at that time, the oppressive
The namesake of the slain cop also gained a grudging respect for Black
Liberation Army members like Bell.
"They were individuals that stepped forward trying to be a vanguard in
those attacks against people," he said. "Even though they were thugs, they
were trying to protect black people."
Waverly Jr. said he has been a follower of the Nation of Islam for the past
14 years and sympathizes with Anthony Bottom, convicted with Bell and a
third man in the killings.
Bottom also is a convert who now goes by the name Jalil Abdul Muntaqim.
Bottom was denied parole once already, and comes up again in July.
Waverly Jr. said his research into his father's case has also left him
uncertain that Bell, Bottom and Albert Washington, who died in prison in
2000, killed his father.
"There's no overwhelming evidence from what I can see and read," he said.
It's a contention that lawyers for the convicted BLA members have tried to
put forth over the years.
An FBI ballistics expert wasn't able to confirm that the .45-caliber gun
recovered from Washington and Bottom when they were arrested matched the
weapon used to kill Jones. That report wasn't made available to the defense
The defense also has appealed, claiming that testimony from key prosecution
witnesses was perjurious, or coerced. All of the appeals failed.
Even if Bell and Bottom did kill their father, Waverly Jr. and Wanda
believe they've done their time and it's time to get out.
"I don't want them to serve any more time, I really don't," Wanda said. "It
just doesn't pay. It doesn't make me feel any better or it doesn't make the
situation any better.
"My father's dead. So even if these people are responsible for his murder,
they've spent 30 years in prison and I don't think they should spend any more."
Wanda and Waverly Jr. said they believe their ability to forgive the men
convicted of killing their father comes from their mother, Mary Green.
'YOU MIGHT NOT GET ANOTHER CHANCE' Mary Green met Waverly Jones Sr. in
1966, when he helped protect her from a vicious dog bent on attacking her.
After shooing away the dog, Jones accepted her invitation to dinner.
Their romance flourished and, about three years later, Wanda was born. When
they had a little boy in April 1971, Waverly asked that he be named Waverly.
Barely a month after he was born, his father was dead. Mary Green vividly
recalls May 21, 1971, because she and Waverly were having a minor spat.
"I was mad at him about something and he wanted to kiss me; I said no," she
recalled. "He said, 'You better kiss me now because you might not get
another chance.' That was the strangest thing. He said, 'You might not get
another chance' and he was killed that night. I've thought about that for
That night was the worst of her life. She not only lost the man she loved
but soon after that she found out from his brother that he had been married
to another woman.
SEEKING FREEDOM. In a letter written to rally support for his release and
"to rebut some of the most scurrilous allegations that have recently been
made against me," Bell, now 56, said he had joined the Black Panther Party
"due to its survival programs, such as free breakfast for schoolchildren,
free medical and legal clinics, community controlled schools and tenants'
control of slum housing. We also endeavored to rid the community of drugs
and violence. ... My involvement resulted in my being falsely accused of
the murder of NYPD officers Jones and Piagentini. I did not commit this
Bell also outlined some of his achievements in prison, obtaining a master's
degree in sociology, being a mentor to younger prisoners and designing
black studies programs. He also founded a program called the "Victory
Gardens Food Project" in which he enlisted farmers from Maine to donate
crops to poor neighborhoods in Maine, New Jersey, Boston and New York City.
"Considering the circumstances and all I have done to improve my life and
the quality of life for others, I now seek your endorsement for my release
in order to become a responsible and law-abiding member of our society."
The statement is to be released next week at a rally planned in Brooklyn
that is expected to be attended by clergy, politicians and rap artists in
favor of his release.
If history holds true, Bell's chance of being paroled is slim.
Traditionally, less than 5 percent of murder convicts have been granted
parole on their first try. Tom Grant, spokesman for the state's Division of
Parole, said 10 of the 237 inmates convicted of murder or attempted murder
who applied for parole for the first time in fiscal 2003 were granted it.
Neither Bell nor Bottom has ever admitted guilt, which has long been seen
as an unofficial prerequisite for being granted parole.
Still, many people took notice when the state's parole board decided last
August to release Kathy Boudin, a former member the radical Weather
Underground who took part in a 1981 armored car robbery in Nyack in which
two police officers and a Brink's guard were killed.
"I would have said there's no way he is going to be paroled," said one
state law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"But all bets are off since Boudin."
Until two years ago, Manny Jones and Glenna Wright had no idea that the men
convicted of killing their brother would ever get a chance to walk out of
"We thought it was life without parole," Wright said.
But after three decades of trying to cope with their brother's death in
private, the issue of Waverly's murder became very public again in June 2002.
With Bottom's parole hearing a month off at that time, City Councilman
Charles Barron of Brooklyn put forth a resolution to the City Council
seeking clemency for Bell, Bottom and Washington, referring to them as
Glenna and Manny both are confused by how the men who killed their brother
can claim political prisoner status.
"How can they say that? They shot a black man," she said. "They can't say
Growing up in Harlem, Manny Jones, 58, had never heard of the Black
Liberation Army prior to the murder of his older brother, whom he called
In the decades since, Manny never found anything symbolic about pumping
bullets into his brother or anything redeemable about the men who pulled
the triggers that night.
"They were the rottenest bunch that ever existed," Manny Jones said. "The
way they did it, they set them up and ambushed them. Wow, they're just
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