Bottom, 68, and Bell were both sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the ambush slayings of Officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini. In a statement, Piagentini’s widow blamed the decision on what she described as a shift in New York in recent years toward a more lenient approach to parole.
“We are heartbroken to see another of Joe’s killers set free by politics,” said Diane Piagentini. Jones and Piagentini were shot multiple times after responding to a report of a domestic dispute at a Harlem public housing complex on May 21, 1971. Prosecutors said at that time that it was a trap set by Bottom and Bell.
The two were members of a violent offshoot of the Black Panther Party called the Black Liberation Army. The group 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.
For years, Bottom, Bell and another co-defendant who has since died in prison claimed they were innocent and had been framed by the FBI.