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Law would keep killers, rapists locked up longer

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT! Killers and rapists who suddenly found themselves eligible for earlier parole, thanks to last-minute finagling by the state Legislature and Jon Corzine, might not get that chance, after all. Two state legislators are penning a law that, if approved, will overwrite part of a measure Cozine signed just before he left office.


It would guarantee that the most dangerous criminals are not granted frequent parole hearings — which only cost taxpayers money, overburden the parole system and force families to relieve the horrors of their loved ones’ killings.

Top: Schroeder / Bottom: Montelaro, Righetti, McGowan, Joan

The law, quickly and quietly approved by the Senate and Assembly just days before the lame-duck Legislature’s session ended, targeted inmates for reform. But last-minute language mandates a new parole hearing within three years of a denial for all of them, violent and non-violent alike.

New Assemlyman Bob Schroeder and veteran Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, both from Bergen County, are fashioning a measure that, he said, “is being very carefully worded to avoid any confusion going forward.”

“The primary focus of the bill is to ensure that inmates who have been convicted of the most serious crimes … will not be eligible for new hearings every three years,” Schroeder said. “The bill will also clarify the stipulation that these new guidelines for parole eligibility will only apply to inmates who are  convicted after the new laws take effect.”

Schroeder said they expect to introduce the bill within a week and, hopefully, move it quickly to debate by the Legislature’s Law & Public Safety Committee, which includes Vandervalk among its members.

Despite a petition and letter-writing campaign organized by Schroeder, Corzine caved to then-Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, who just so happens to have two convicted holdup men for sons. By giving non-violent and “lesser” violent convicts (such as her sons) a leg up, Watson Coleman claimed, the state could prevent them from returning to prison. Her logic, essentially: The anticipated reduction in recidivism would make them more productive citizens and the world a safer place.

What she couldn’t square was why violent rapists, murderers and others needed to be included — nor why she pushed for a $6 million initiative in a financially-strapped state.

Without comment, Corzine approved the measures in his last day in office , granting parole hearings at least every three years for anyone who has been denied release — regardless of the crime — and establishing a blue-ribbon panel that will review the cases of ANYONE who’s been in prison at least 20 years.

That includes the remorseless Christopher Righetti, who abducted and butchered 20-year-old honor student Kim Montelaro, and Joseph McGowan, who killed young Joan D’Alessandro, when she came to his Hillsdale home selling Girl Scout cookies.

Although the Parole Board wisely abstained from the fray, it was clear speaking to certain people close to the action that its members hoped for a different result.

New hearings required by the last-minute law would not only overburden an already-active board. They would force Kim and Joan’s still-grieving families, as well as many others, to relieve the horrors of their deaths every 36 months. And it will cost the state at least $6 million during a budget crunch.

“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,” D’Alessandro told CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM . “But we will prevail. There will be something that will work.”

To be sure their version works, Schroeder and Vandervalk are carefully reviewing each word and phrase to eliminate any and all possible ambiguity.

“Some lawyers who look at these laws say that they are meant to be ‘prospective’ not ‘retrospective,’ meaning that killers who were already convicted prior to the bills’ being signed into law would not be eligible for these new guidelines,” the freshman Assemblyman told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“However, other lawyers have asserted that the language is just ambiguous enough to leave the door open for someone like McGowan or Righetti to file an appeal,” said Schroeder, a former Washington Township councilman.

“These new laws would NOT apply to anyone who has been convicted of a crime that comes under the No Early Release Act (NERA), which includes acts such as murder, aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter, vehicular homicide, aggravated assault and aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, carjacking, terrorism, etc.,” Schroeder told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“This will remove all doubt about whether or not dangerous criminals like Righetti will be eligible for new parole hearings every three years,” he added. “They won’t, if this new bill is enacted.”

Schroeder is definitely a man of his word.

“To Rosemarie D’Alessandro, Tony & Alice Montelaro, and all of the families who will be negatively impacted by these new laws,” he said after being sworn into office, “my thoughts and prayers are with you.

“I pledge to do everything I can to put forth legislation that will keep dangerous murderers and pedophiles like the ones who killed your children behind bars where they belong.”

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