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‘No early release’ becomes law in New Jersey

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Loved ones of murder and rape victims — several of them right here in our area — can finally begin to exhale now that Gov. Christie has repealed a state program that let some convicts leave prison six months early. The governor wasted no time, signing the “no early release” measure Monday within hours of the Legislature’s vote for final approval.

Kim Montelaro, Kevin Beattie, Joan D’Alessandro, Viviana Tulli

“From a public policy and public safety point of view, the statutory early release law was a disaster,” Christie said. “Repeal should have happened 10 months ago, when we predicted and warned of the tragic circumstances that would follow if this law remained in effect.”

The previous program gave an earlier crack at parole to several ex-convicts who went on to commit more violent crimes, including the murder of 21-year-old Viviana Tulli of Garfield last year.

“A smile has crossed my saddened face with this OUTSTANDING information,” her sister, Stella Tulli, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT early Monday evening. “I can rest easier knowing another criminal will not be granted an early release.”

One of the most outspoken advocates against early release, Assemblyman Bob Schroeder, R-Bergen, said: “Today’s vote sends a strong message that New Jersey’s priorities remain with victims, not criminals.”

Reducing recidivism is “a worthwhile goal,” he added, “but it does not trump public safety.”

Christie was pleased that lawmakers agreed to return power to the State Parole Board of when it will hold hearings. The measures gives the board discretion to wait three to 10 years following a denial. It also eliminates a provision that allowed violent criminals to be released six months early.

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 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).

Proponents defended the six-month early release and narrower parole window as positive steps toward keeping fewer ex-cons from returning to prison.

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 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 an early release was charged earlier this year with shooting a 21-year-old man in the back in Jersey City, killing him, that the bill’s flaws were brought to light. Christie had already insisted the six-month early-release provision be repealed last year — and even pushed back implementation of the law until this January.

“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 at the time. “We can only hope that there won’t be anybody else who loses their lives.”

He may not have been aware of the brutal murder of Viviana Tulli at the hands of David Goodell, an early-release beneficiary who prosecutors said strangled his ex-girlfriend hours after fleeing a hospital he was taken to while staying at a halfway house last October. He then drove her car head-on into a police cruiser, her body still in the passenger seat.

“I still do not understand how he was released early,” Stella Tulli wrote in CLIFFVIEW PILOT last week ( SEE : Slip-up leaves slain woman’s sister still seeking answers ).

“I still wonder how the Parole Board looked over his docket, which showed his previous assault on officers, his previous terrorist threats, his violations while being incarcerated — and still said, ‘Yes, this man can go to a halfway house.’ Where is the justice?”

Because of the previous law change, Rosemarie D’Alessandro of Hillsdale lived in fear for a time that her daughter’s killer Joseph McGowan, would be freed early after killing young Joan D’Alessandro when she came to his home selling Girl Scout cookies. The Parole Board eventually denied his bid, but many — including Joan’s mother — felt the hearing shouldn’t have been necessary ( SEE : Killer exhausts appeals ).

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.

Schroeder 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 ( SEE : Parole denied for honor student’s killer )

“What we don’t need is a repeat of this every three years,” Kim’s father, Tony, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Just as 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.

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 ( SEE : Driver who killed Emerson teens freed early ).

“Unfortunately, the law didn’t work for us,” Beattie told CLIFFVIEW PILOT today. “But if it can give relief and comfort to another family then I feel we’ve won — knowing that person is away for the amount of time given.

“I know Kevin is shining down on us saying, “Good job. Never give up’.”

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