NEW YORK, N.Y. – He made the FBI’s most wanted list and was convicted of leading a revolutionary group responsible for a trail of bloodshed, including the slayings of an armed guard and two New York police officers. But after serving half his prison sentence, Mutulu Shakur might soon be a free man.
The 65-year-old, stepfather to the late rapper Tupac Shakur, is eligible for mandatory parole after serving 30 years of the 60-year sentence he was given in 1988 for masterminding a string of deadly armed robberies in New York and Connecticut committed by a militant political group known as “The Family.”
His parole hearing is to take place this week at the federal penitentiary in Victorville, California, where he is serving his sentence, according to U.S. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr.
Although federal parole was abolished in 1987, it is still granted for inmates convicted before then. And under the rules in place at the time of his conviction, parole is mandatory for Shakur unless a commission finds he is likely to reoffend or has frequently violated prison rules.
The possibility that Shakur could walk free has outraged Michael Paige, whose father, a Brinks security guard, was killed in a $1.6 million holdup of an armoured truck at a mall in suburban Rockland County, New York, on Oct. 20, 1981.
He called it “incomprehensible” and “sickening.”
“That’s the going rate? Thirty years for at least three lives that were taken?” he said. “I was 16 years when he was killed by these animals. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my father.”
Less than an hour after Peter Paige was killed during the Brinks heist, two Nyack police officers, Waverly Brown and Sgt. Edward O’Grady, were killed in an ambush after stopping a truck at a roadside checkpoint.
Shakur was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list after the heist. He remained on the run until he was arrested in Los Angeles in 1986.
Shakur was also charged with aiding fellow revolutionary Joanne Chesimard’s escape from a New Jersey prison, where she was serving a sentence for killing New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster in 1973.
An admitted accomplice testified at Shakur’s trial that armed members of his revolutionary group had visited the prison, captured two guards and then drove Chesimard out in a prison van. He said Shakur was protecting the escape route.
Chesimard, who now goes by the name Assata Shakur, fled to Cuba and remains at large. She was granted asylum by Fidel Castro, but some U.S. officials have pushed for her to be extradited to the U.S. after the countries re-established diplomatic relations.
O’Grady’s son, also named Edward, urged the U.S. Parole Commission to deny Shakur’s bid for release and make sure he spends the rest of his life in prison “where terrorists like him belong.”
“I offer that the crimes Mr. Shakur was convicted of are a brand of violent extremism similar in scope, if not scale, to what we are seeing from the Islamic State and Al Qaeda before them,” wrote O’Grady, a Navy commander.
Attempts to reach Brown’s family were unsuccessful.
Shakur has maintained his innocence since his arrest. At his trial in the 1980s, his attorney argued there was no proof that his client participated in the robberies or aided in the prison escape.
Shakur has amassed a large group of supporters throughout his incarceration, many of whom believe he is a political prisoner. They have co-ordinated letter-writing campaigns and phone banks to demand his release and to solicit donations to support his legal fund.
Shakur did not respond to a letter The Associated Press sent him in prison. His attorney did not comment for this story.
Following his parole hearing, a hearing officer will make a recommendation to the U.S. Parole Commission on whether Shakur should be released. And ultimately, the federal commission will decide whether to grant parole.
Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1.