The person who shot John Lennon in 1980 claims to feel “more and more shame” each year.
Mark David Chapman, 63, told a parole board in August 2018 about his remorse. It was Chapman’s tenth attempt to gain his freedom. The New York prison authorities released a transcript of the hearing Thursday.
Chapman was handed a 20-years to life sentence for killing the former Beatle outside of The Dakota, Lennon’s apartment building, on December 8, 1980.
New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, proposed changes to the state’s parole system. The changes were meant to help inmates transition to life outside the bars.
“One proposal would remove the obstacles former inmates face in acquiring a state occupational license,” said Arkady Bukh, a noted New York criminal defense attorney. “Another would eliminate outdated barriers that frustrate any attempts at rehabilitation.”
Cuomo also proposed allowing elderly prisoners to seek parole if they have finished half of their sentence.
“These reforms promote public safety and an inmates rehabilitation who have paid their debt,” Cuomo said.
Broken Parole and Sentencing Process
Instead of acting swiftly on many of Cuomo’s proposals, the NY Senate took fast action in addressing incidents where the rights of convicted and dangerous criminals were perceived to be placed before a law abiding public.
The catalyst for the Senate action was the Herman Bell’s release. Bell was freed after luring two New York City police officers to a Harlem housing project in 1971. Bell murdered the pair only because they were cops.
Christopher Thomas, responsible for executing 10 people on Palm Sunday in 1984, was the recipient of early release also and was another stake in the ground for state senators.
The legislation passed would help reform a “broken parole and sentencing process” while strengthening penalties for the most violent of New York offenders.
PBA Fights Change
Political forces with an interesting in keeping Bell locked up were incensed by the parole board’s decision and put pressure on Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to intervene.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) led the charge in keeping Bell behind bars.
The PBA has 40,000 members and represents police officers in New York City. Not everyone believes the PBA’s motives were driven solely by safety concerns.
New York’s corrections system has repeatedly been under fire for ethnic inequities in imprisonment rates and parole decisions. Black prisoners are consistently dealt with harsher than white prisoners according to multiple investigation by The New York Times.
One investigation found that although blacks comprise 14% of the state’s population, they account for 50% of the state’s prisons. The Times also reviewed almost 60,000 disciplinary cases and found black inmates were 30% more apt to get a disciplinary ticket than whites.
State prison guards handed out 1,144 disciplinary tickets to black prisoners in 2015. During the same year, only 226 tickets were given to white prisoners.
Attorneys and activists have noted racial bias in disciplinary cases has ‘ripple effects.”
UPDATE, On April 23, 2018: A New York judge on Friday dismissed the lawsuit seeking to prevent Herman Bell’s release from prison.
In his decision, state Supreme Court Justice Richard Koweek pointed out that the widow of one of Bell’s victims was not in a position to challenge the New York State Parole Board, as she does not have legal standing.
To overturn the parole board’s decision, Koweek wrote, a court must find the board acted with “irrationality bordering on impropriety.” But, as Koweek wrote, “Nothing that is supplied in this case persuades this Court that the actions of the Parole Board meet that standard.”