A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

Protecting the public is a responsibility I take very seriously. I have worked to pass strong laws to provide police and prosecutors with the tools they need to keep our communities safe and ensure that dangerous criminals are off our streets. Unfortunately, there are others in Albany who have taken a different position, and are showing gratuitous leniency to cop killers, sex offenders, and violent felons.

In April, notorious cop killer Herman Bell was released from prison, even after he lured New York City police officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini to a Harlem housing project in 1971 and murdered them both solely because they were cops. Other instances of early release, such as Christopher Thomas – who was responsible for executing 10 people including 8 children on Palm Sunday in 1984 – and violent crimes committed by repeat offenders have rightfully outraged victims, law enforcement, and the public.

Not only are these dangerous criminals being released from prison, but many of them have also received secretive pardons from Governor Cuomo who unilaterally granted them the right to vote by signing an executive order in April. Over 24,000 parolees received special pardons to vote from the governor – including Herman Bell. The governor also granted the same status to 77 high-level sex offenders upstate. It is currently unknown exactly how many “conditional pardons” his office issued.

When someone has paid his full debt to society then and only then should rights be restored. The convicted criminals receiving special treatment have not earned that right and over 125 of the governor’s pardoned parolees have already violated parole or committed a new crime, including:

* Nicholas Pulido, who raped a 14-year-old girl in 2015 when he was already a registered sex offender. While out on parole, he received a conditional pardon from Governor Cuomo to vote – and then raped a girl under 17 years old. The high-risk, Level 3 sex offender is now back in prison.

Keep in mind that many polling places are located in our schools. Allowing convicted cop killers, pedophiles, and rapists to walks the halls of a school is simply unconscionable.

The New York State Senate Republican Majority will hold hearings in the near future to look into the uptick in parole board releases for violent felons along with the executive order handed down by the governor allowing them the right to vote. The public deserves answers on these highly questionable actions that jeopardize everyone’s safety.

Additionally, I helped pass a package of public safety initiatives to prevent violent criminals from being released back into communities and give victims and law enforcement a bigger voice in the parole and sentencing processes.

One of the bills (S.2997) which I co-sponsor would allow the New York State Parole Board to extend the period of time between reconsidering parole board denials from two years to five years when the inmate was sentenced for a violent crime.

To understand how this law would work you need to look no further than the murder of 18 year old Gillian ‘Jill’ Gibbons in 1989 in Oneonta in my senate district. The convicted killer David Dart received a parole hearing in 2014 and another in 2016 – his parole was unequivocally denied both times. Dart is a confessed murderer who has threatened the victim’s sister and would be a danger to the community if he were released. There is no reason why Dart, or others who have committed such heinous crimes, should be allowed the privilege of a parole hearing every two years.

The senate has passed this legislation on multiple occasions, but the assembly has never voted on the measure. Companion legislation (A.2350-A) has been introduced in the assembly where it has nearly fifty sponsors.

Going forward, I will continue to support key public safety initiatives to strengthen our laws, keep communities safe, and protect citizens from harm.