ALBANY - Six former New York state parole commissioners have signed on to an unprecedented amicus brief that accuses the board of caving in to outside pressure to keep behind bars a "cop killer" who long ago paid his debt to society.
The amicus brief in the case of Pablo Costello accompanies a petition alleging that the Board of Parole withered under a media spotlight and pressure from the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA) and rescinded parole for an offender who had been approved for release and was within four days of walking out of prison for the first time in more than 30 years.
Former commissioners, including two previous chairmen and three parole board members appointed by Governor George Pataki, who had an especially strict parole viewpoint, are urging the Appellate Division, Third Department, to hold the Board of Parole to a higher standard and prevent it from revoking an inmate's release simply because victims object after parole has been approved.
Simultaneously, advocates for another "cop killer," Samuel Hamilton, are gearing up to challenge the repeated parole denial of an inmate who has both the prosecutor who sent him away in 1983 and the state corrections commissioner on his side.
The Costello and Hamilton cases are similar in that both men have spent about 30 years in prison, both have solid institutional records and widespread support, both are in the cross-hairs of the PBA and neither of them, despite repeated visits to the parole board, can secure his freedom.
Further, neither of them killed anybody.
Costello was 22-years-old in 1978 when he was involved in a holdup at a Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, auto parts store. Records show that Costello was the lookout while his accomplice, Luis Torres, robbed the proprietor at gunpoint.
While the robbery was taking place, New York City Police Officer David Guttenberg happened upon Costello's double-parked car and walked toward the store to find the owner. Costello fled when he saw Guttenberg approaching. Guttenberg went into the shop, happening on an in-progress robbery. Torres shot and killed the 49-year-old father of four.
Costello was convicted of felony murder and sentenced by the late Justice Sybil Hart-Kooper to a 25-year-to-life term, even though the prosecutor recommended a 20-to-life sentence. Torres, convicted of intentional murder, received the same sentence and died in prison in 1986, records show.
When Costello appeared before the parole board for the fourth time in 2009, he was 53-years-old, had a good disciplinary record, had completed numerous vocational and educational programs, had obtained an associate's degree from Dutchess County Community College and had picked up 12 additional credits from Cornell University. He had authored several scholarly articles in the Puerto Rico Society of Genealogy journal. Costello had job offers and a stable place to live with his wife and 30-year-old daughter, records show.