YOU READ IT HERE FIRST : State lawmakers in both houses introduced measures today that will bring relief to loved ones of murder and rape victims — several of them right here in our area — reversing a stealth maneuver that gave killers and assailants earlier cracks at parole.
N.J. Assemblyman Bob Schroeder (l.) with the Montelaros ( CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo: No re-use without hyperlink)
Sen. Diane Allen is sponsoring the Senate version and Assembly members Dave Rible and Bob Schroeder their house’s bill.
Gov. Christie has said he’ll sign the reforms, if approved, into law.
For many, a wrong will be righted.
In January 2010, lame-duck Democrats in Trenton OK’d a bill that made the earlier parole possible. It was sponsored by then-Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, who just so happened to have two convicted holdup men for sons.
Despite a petition and letter-writing campaign organized by Schroeder, of Washington Township, outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine signed the bill into law his last day in office, granting parole hearings at least every three years to any convict, regardless of the crime (It had been 10 years).
Another provision allowed them to be released six months early.
Proponents defended both moves as positive steps toward keeping fewer ex-cons from returning to prison by creating more opportunities.
What Watson-Coleman couldn’t explain was why violent criminals — such as her sons, who were released in January 2008 after serving six years each for a Kids “R” Us holdup — needed to be included.
Nor was any mention made of the fact that even straight arrows are having trouble finding work these days. Even less was said about the $6 million price tag.
Corzine did the deed in his Newark office, saving himself a trip from his Hoboken condo to Trenton after a vacation in Switzerland. Scant hours later, he was gone — late enough in the day for it not to become big news anywhere.
It wasn’t until an inmate who benefited from the early-release provision was charged two weeks ago with shooting a 21-year-old man in the back, killing him, in Jersey City that the bill’s flaws were brought to light. Christie publicly insisted the six-month early-release provision be repeated.
“It is tragic that because of Assemblywoman Watson Coleman’s philosophy on crime… we now have one person who has lost his life,” the governor said. “We can only hope that there won’t be anybody else who loses their lives.”
There were many people right here in Bergen County who warned of this shortly after Christie took office 14 months ago.Top: Montelaro / Righetti; Lower: Joan / McGowan; Right: BC Sheriff’s Officer Rybka
“It’s just not right what was done, by the way it was done, by those who voted for it, and, of course, by the signing of the bill,” said children’s rights advocate Rosemarie D’Alessandro.
Consider these cases:
Bergen County Sheriff’s Officer Joseph Rybka took with him the pride of those he served as he lay choked by his own blood on a hospital floor, gasping through his final breath, on Jan. 7, 1979. All of 32 years old and already a 10-year veteran of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, he was a proud sentry who protected others from the horrors of crime.
But while guarding a dangerous prisoner at what was then known as Bergen Pines Hospital, Rybka was suddenly and viciously attacked. In an instant, 22-year-old Stephen Perry — who’d been wounded in a shootout with Teaneck cops — bashed Rybka with his IV stand and snatched the officer’s gun, pistol-whipping him to the floor.
Rybka lay defenseless as Perry pointed and shot three times at close range, hitting Rybka in the leg, chest and heart.
Perry was later caught — still holding Rybka’s gun — and eventually was sentenced to life. He was denied parole in 2009, but those who know and love his widow, Patricia Rybka, said she shouldn’t have had to relive the agony so soon after his last hearing.
Joan & mom
Blame the legislators who narrowed the parole hearing window, and the former governor who rubberstamped it.
Thanks to the law change, D’Alessando lived for a time with the fear that her daughter’s killer would be freed early. The Parole Board eventually denied Joseph McGowan, who killed young Joan D’Alessandro when she came to his Hillsdale home selling Girl Scout cookies. But many — including Joan’s mother — felt the hearing shouldn’t have been necessary.
The same goes for the parents of 20-year-old honor student Kim Montelaro. Thirty-five years ago, Christopher Righetti — then 16 — abducted her from the parking lot of the Paramus Park Mall and took Montelaro to a wooded area, where he raped her before stabbing her six times in the chest.
Shroeder galvanized members of KeepBergenSafe.com, a victim’s rights advocacy group that actively supported the Montelaro family’s successful 2009 bid to keep a demonstratively remorseless Righetti behind bars.
But Montelaro’s elderly parents went back to Florida fearful of a return trip in just a few years, thanks to Watson Coleman‘s law.
“These people have suffered the worst pain any parent can ever experience,” Schroeder told CLIFFVIEW PILOT at the time, “and every time they have to address the Parole Board, it takes so much out of them. No one should ever have to go through that kind of suffering.”
“What we don’t need is a repeat of this every three years,” Kim’s father, Tony, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
Even more saddening was the case of a boy who was originally sentenced to 18 months after his car rolled over several times on southbound Route 17 in Waldwick while he was speeding, killing two boys from Emerson, three years ago.
Both victims’ parents had consented to the term, but a judge later reduced it to 15 months — for TWO counts of vehicular manslaughter.
Kevin Michael Beattie & mom
The teen was freed after only 10 months, however — again, thanks to Watson Coleman, Corzine and company.
Suzanne Glock Beattie merely wanted the teen to serve out the full 15 months at the Jamesburg State Home for Boys for killing her 15-year-old son, Kevin Michael Beattie, and friend Thomas Carlis, 14.
“My family and I have a life sentence of pain from our devastating loss of Kevin,“ Suzanne Glock Beattie told CLIFFVIEW PILOT , “and this person is going to get out early?
“Unfortunately. my son doesn’t earn points for good behavior 12 feet under.”
Earlier this week, the Assembly approved a measure that replaces the every-three-years provision with a 10-year wait for anyone convicted under the No Early Release Act.
The moves announced today will go even further.
“Even the most well-intentioned legislation can have unintended consequences,” Schroeder said. “Reducing recidivism is important, but the safety and well-being of our citizens must be our top priority.”
“Protecting the public is one of the first duties of government,” Rible added.
Impassioned pleas can be expected as the new measures make their way onto the floors of the respective legislative bodies. Those involved urge everyone to contact their local representatives and make their feelings known.
Or comment below, and a legislative aide will collect the messages.
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