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: Senators Paul Sarlo and Loretta Weinberg stood by as lame-duck fellow Democrats in the Statehouse quietly approved — and outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine discreetly signed — bills that gave murderers and rapists earlier cracks at parole. Now, the local lawmakers are looking to reverse that move.
Lower: Joan & her killer, McGowan;
Right: BC Sheriff’s Officer Joe Rybka
They say they have a measure ready for submission to the Legislature that would lengthen the span between eligibility hearings for certain convicts to 10 years instead of three.
Patricia Rybka was one of several survivors who shuddered when Corzine signed the bills before high-tailing it out of office last year. She’ll be on hand for a news conference this morning at the Bergen County Jail, a facility run by one of her biggest and most vocal supporters, Sheriff Leo McGuire. There, Sarlo and Weinberg intend to sketch out their plan.
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, 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 just last month, but those who know and love Patricia Rybka said she shouldn’t have had to relive the agony so soon after his last hearing.
Rybka is no ordinary survivor. She has campaigned not only to keep her husband’s killer behind bars but has obtained bulletproof vests for officers in New Jersey and met with groups of police widows, among other contributions.
Last year, her husband was inducted into the New Jersey Police Honor Legion, based in Little Ferry. Patricia took the oath of office in his name.
Rosemarie D’Alessando, whose daughter Joan’s killer remains behind bars, feels for the Pat Rybkas of the state.
“They thought they were finally free, ” D’Alessandro told CLIFFVIEW PILOT after Corzine signed the measures last year, “but they’re not.”
By severely loosening parole requirements for all convicts, regardless of their crimes, Corzine all but assured that the killers of D’Alessandro’s daughter and of 20-year-old honor student Kim Montelaro could go free.
New hearings will force the grieving families to relieve the horrors, the same as Rybka did. It also will cost the state an estimated $6 million during a budget crunch.
Corzine signs bill releasing murderers, rapists earlier
Law would keep killers, rapists locked up longer
Online petition aims to derail loosening of parole eligibility
Opponents of hush-hush parole bills corner Corzine
Despite a petition and letter-writing campaign organized by state Assemblyman Bob Schroeder — and with D’Alessandro’s help — Corzine caved to his own party’s Democratic powerhouse, Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, who just so happens to have two convicted holdup men for sons.
Without comment, Corzine approved the measures his last day in office, granting parole hearings at least every three years to anyone who has been denied release — regardless of the crime.
That includes the remorseless Christopher Righetti, who abducted and butchered Kim Montelaro , and Joseph McGowan, who killed young Joan D’Alessandro when she came to his Hillsdale home selling Girl Scout cookies . ( Click on the links to see those stories. )
Proponents defended the measures as positive steps toward keeping fewer ex-cons from returning to prison by creating more opportunities. By giving non-violent convicts a leg up, Watson-Coleman argued, the state could prevent them from returning to prison.
What she 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 was 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 signed the measures in Newark office, saving himself a trip from Hoboken to Trenton after a vacation in Switzerland. And he did so late enough in the day that it wasn’t big enough news anywhere.
“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 said. “But we will prevail. There will be something that will work.”
Shroeder, of Washington Township, galvanized members of KeepBergenSafe.com, a victim’s rights advocacy group that actively supported the Montelaro family’s successful bid to keep Righetti behind bars.
They succeeded, but Montelaro’s elderly parents went back to Florida fearful of a return trip in just a few years.
“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.”
Gov. Chris Christie has neither said nor done anything in his tenure as governor to indicate he wouldn’t sign the bill once it reached his desk.
It’s now up to Sarlo and Weinberg to right the wrong of their lame-duck Democratic colleagues. If they can get legislation approved in the Senate, there’s little doubt Schroeder could do the same in the House.
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