An upstate New York police officer who was paralyzed after being shot on duty in 2006 died over the weekend, prompting calls for the gunman to be charged with murder.
Patricia Parete, 48, died early Saturday following spinal cord injuries that had left her paralyzed from the neck down. She and partner Carla Andolina were injured when a gunman shot them during an encounter at a convenience store in Buffalo on Dec. 5, 2006.
"The injuries she sustained on that day in December paralyzed her from the neck down," said Buffalo Police Patrolmen Benevolent Association President James Panus. "That injury cost her her life, and if they wanted a full police funeral, we would make that happen."
A funeral for Parete will be held Wednesday. Although an official cause of death is pending, if the shooting is found to be the direct cause of Parete's death, gunman Varner Harris Jr., who is serving a sentence of 30 years to life, could face a murder charge, according to Buffalo attorney Barry Covert.
"The legislature made a specific exception for instances when someone is found guilty of an assault or assault-related charge, but after the conviction, the victim in that case passed away — then that's the exception and they could face homicide charges,” Covert told WKBW.
On websites devoted to the law enforcement community, several posts called for Harris to face new charges.
"I hope Buffalo district attorney plans on prosecuting the killer for murder of a police officer now, so instead of 30 to life, it is just plain life and a murder conviction," wrote one poster on policeone.com.
In a statement, Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said: "We woke up this morning to very sad news. Patricia Parete was a brave and courageous officer. We have suffered a tremendous loss, not only this department, but our city and community as well.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said he was struck with “just total sadness” upon hearing news of Parete’s death.
“My thoughts, prayers and wishes are with her and her family at this time,” Brown said in a statement.
Attempts to reach Parete’s relatives were unsuccessful Tuesday. A call seeking comment from the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office regarding a cause of death was not immediately returned.
Parete, who was obsessed with physical fitness and had a passion for her Harley-Davidson motorcycle, was accepted into the department in 2001 at age 36. Parete, 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing 120 pounds, had nearly zero percent body fat, the Buffalo News reports. She suffered severe spinal cord injuries after a second bullet struck her chin and became lodged in her spine.
The upstate community followed Parete's struggle, and a local fundraiser generated more than $500,000 for her care. In 2009, a new handicapped accessible house was built in Niagara County for Parete. The city of Buffalo and PBA Attorney Thomas Burton also struck an unprecedented deal to pay salary and benefits to Parete's life partner and caregiver.