Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist who has been imprisoned for 29 years, has been denied parole, the U.S. Parole Commission said Friday.
López Rivera, a member of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Puertorriqueña (FALN), a pro independence group that claimed responsibility for bombs set off in New York City and Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s, was convicted in 1981 for seditious conspiracy, among other charges. López Rivera was sentenced to 70 years in prison.
The four-member panel decided that López Rivera, 68, who is serving time at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute Ind., should remain incarcerated.
"We have to look at whether release would depreciate the seriousness of the offenses or promote disrespect for the law, whether release would jeopardize public safety, and the specific characteristics of the offender," said Parole Commission Chairman Isaac Fulwood Jr. in a statement.
The decision comes after a January recommendation by a hearing examiner to deny parole.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton offered clemency to López Rivera and other members of the group. López Rivera turned down the offer because it did not include the release of two of his comrades.
He would have been freed in 2009 had he accepted the offer. His sister, Zenaida López, was quoted in November as saying that he refused the clemency because parole would have been "prison outside prison."
López Rivera is a polarizing figure – to his supporters, he's a political prisoner who's been wrongly imprisoned, while his opponents view him as a terrorist with blood on his hands.
The FALN, according to authorities, was responsible for dozens of bombings, including one at the Fraunces Tavern in New York in 1975. That bombing killed four people, including Frank Connor, a 33-year-old banker.
Connor's son, Joseph, has been at the forefront to keep López Rivera in prison.
"I think we found justice here," said Joseph Connor, 45, of New Jersey.
"I don't feel any real joy in this," he added. "It's sad that he ruined my father's life, tried to ruin our lives, and ruined his own life. He's going to rot in jail for the rest of his life, and for what?"
His supporters, however, believe López Rivera has served enough time. Four Puerto Rican members of Congress wrote a letter to the commission asking for his release.
"Notably, of all the Puerto Ricans convicted for politically motivated activities in the early 1980s, Mr. López-Rivera is the only one who remains in prison," said the letter, which was signed by Reps. José Serrano and Nydia Velázquez of New York, Luís Gutiérrez of Illinois and Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's nonvoting House delegate.
Lopez Rivera's lawyer, Jan Susler, could not be reached for comment. His siblings could not be reached, either.
In two years, a statutory interim hearing – a reevaluation of Friday's decision – will be held, but López Rivera will likely have to wait until 2021 for a mandatory parole date for his next shot at freedom.
You can reach Wil Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org.