Violent Crime

* Herman Bell is Allowed to Plead to Voluntary Manslaughter and Probation in Killing of San Francisco Police Sergeant John Young

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One of seven men accused in the killing of a San Francisco police sergeant nearly 40 years ago pleaded guilty Monday in San Francisco Superior Court to voluntary manslaughter, his attorney said. Herman Bell, now 61, and six other reputed former members of the Black Liberation Army, a militant offshoot of the Black Panther Party, were charged in 2007 by the California Attorney General’s office with the murder of Sgt. John Young at the Ingleside police station in August 1971.  Supporters of those charged claim some of the men signed confessions elicited under police torture in New Orleans in 1973, and that no new evidence has been brought forward since then to justify the charges. For his guilty plea to the lesser charge on Monday, Bell, who was already in prison for the May 1971 killing of two New York City police officers, was sentenced to five years’ probation, his attorney Stuart Hanlon said in a prepared statement. Hanlon said that Bell had been facing the possibility of a life sentence without the possibility of parole in California, and will now “continue to fight for parole” from prison in New York. Though Bell’s plea is an admission of guilt on his part, he will not testify against the others charged in this case, Hanlon said. A second charge against Bell of conspiracy to commit murder was dismissed. According to prosecutors, late on the evening of Aug. 29, 1971, nine armed men attacked the Ingleside station. Young was hit from close range by shotgun blasts fired through the public counter window of the station’s business office. A female clerk was hit in the arm and survived.  Following the shootings, the suspects tried to ignite a bomb and blow up the station but failed, prosecutors said. Prosecutors say Bell fired the shotgun that killed Young and injured the clerk. Hanlon’s statement said it was “difficult to believe” that the attorney general’s office “would have allowed Mr. Bell to plead to a lesser charge with a sentence of only informal probation if there was credible evidence he had shot Sgt. Young.” Prosecutors did not immediately return calls for comment this morning. Anthony Bottom (now Jalil Muntaqim), 57, also in prison for the killings of the New York officers, is still charged with murder for Young’s killing, as are Francisco Torres, 60, of Queens, N.Y.; Richard Brown, 68, of San Francisco; Ray Boudreaux, 66, and Henry Jones, 73, both of Altadena; and Harold Taylor, 60, of Panama City, Fla. Muntaqim and Torres are also charged with conspiracy to commit murder. The conspiracy charges relate to a series of crimes between 1968 and 1973, including the attempted murder of four police officers, the bombing of a police officer’s funeral, the murder of the two New York City officers, the attempted bombing of the Mission police station and three armed bank robberies. A preliminary hearing in the case, which could last for months, is scheduled to begin Monday.

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