By Graham Rayman
A man imprisoned for 27 years for shooting a cop in Brooklyn should be released because he's earned three college degrees while behind bars and mentors other prisoners in his role as a law library clerk, his lawyers said Monday.
George Hill — who even has a master’s degree from the New York Theological Seminary — has been severely punished for shooting Officer Paul Freitas in 1991 and is a changed man who deserves his freedom, they said.
"If you meet Mr. Hill, you will find a remorseful, thoughtful, deeply compassionate man," said Steven Zeidman, a CUNY law professor representing Hill.
As the Daily News reported Sunday, Freitas and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association are pressing the state Parole Board not to release Hill. The 46-year-old prisoner, now housed in Sing Sing, is slated to give his statement to the Parole Board Tuesday.
But Zeidman and his colleague Bahar Ansari argue that Hill shouldn't be seen as he was — a troubled 19-year-old gunman — but as the “changed and transformed” person he is today.
"The question ultimately is are they focusing on who he is now, or what happened 27 years ago?" Zeidman said. "Fixating on what happened 27 years ago is cruel and unforgiving. He can’t change what happened 27 years ago. He can change who he is today. He has improved and atoned and changed and transformed."
Freitas, now 55, disagreed. “Just because someone has college degrees doesn’t make them a better person,” he said Monday. “I got 27 years of pain and suffering and I’ll have it forever.”
The retired officer told The News Sunday he fears there's a very real chance that Hill will be released after his fifth appearance before the board.
"To this day, I have heavy stomach pain, and I still have flashbacks all the time. I still have bullet fragments in my face,” he said.
Freitas noted that he did receive a letter of apology in November from Hill, but he dismissed it as self-serving. "It was a canned letter just written for him to get out of jail," he said. "In 25 years, he didn't apologize. He could have apologized any time he wanted, but he didn't."
But Zeidman and Ansari said Hill didn’t know he was allowed to write to the victim of a crime until last year.
“It is against (state prison) rules to directly communicate with the victim,” Ansari said. “If he were to do that, he would have been severely disciplined. He never did not take responsibility.”
Once Hill learned he could have sent an apology, he did so immediately and sent two letters, they said. He has deep ties in the community, including his 82-year-old mother and a brother who is a retired correction officer.
“The crime that my brother committed more than 20 years ago is not a reflection of him today,” said Hill’s brother Robert Hill. “George’s family and his community love him and everyone is committed to helping him transition as seamlessly as possible. We look forward to George hopefully coming home soon.”
Zeidman said that if the board approaches its task “the way mandated by the law, then it should reach the conclusion that George Hill should be released. All too often the police union has little interest in the parole board following the statutory mandate. He made a tragic mistake and he’s been punished. We’re not talking about a slap on the wrist.”
"I didn’t get a slap on the wrist either,” said Freitas, who has scars on his face and his neck — plus one on his chest about 18 inches long from the shooting. “And I got the scars to prove it.”
Added PBA President Patrick Lynch, “Getting an education or living crime free under the constant surveillance of Corrections Officers while in lock-down is neither an accomplishment nor a justification for parole. We also question why this so called ‘rehabilitated’ cop-shooter showed no remorse until it became a requirement for parole.”