New York state lawmakers are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to block the release of a man convicted in the 1980 murder of a 16-year-old girl in a crime so depraved it stunned law enforcement and shook a close-knit community to its core.
Paula Bohovesky, an aspiring actress and high school honor student, was beaten, sexually assaulted and stabbed to death as she walked home from a local library in the quiet hamlet of Pearl River, N.Y., a village 40 miles north of New York City.
A jury convicted Richard LaBarbera and Robert McCain of second-degree murder in 1981, and the two men were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison – the toughest sentence possible at that time.
On Wednesday, a parole board of Cuomo appointees informed Bohovesky’s family that LaBarbera will be released in July – a move that shocked victim advocates, state lawmakers and the girl’s mother, who said in a statement released by a family friend: “It’s all about the state’s decision to reduce the prison population.”
LaBarbera, 66, who was out on parole for a drug-related offense at the time of the killing, has never claimed responsibility for Bohovesky’s death – a common prerequisite before a criminal is released. Neither has McCain, 58, who goes before the same parole board in June.
“Both of these killers never expressed remorse, regret, shame or accepted responsibility for this beastly crime,” said John Murphy, a former longtime Rockland County legislator whose children attended school with Bohovesky at Pearl River High School.
“This was an appalling, animalistic act,” said Murphy, who founded a non-profit group called, “Petition for Paula,” more than a decade ago. Every two years, the charity collects thousands of signatures to present to the parole board in opposition of the men’s release.
“This is a time-sensitive situation. We need people to call the governor’s office because this is appalling and inhumane,” Murphy told Fox News. “We cannot have this happen to another child.”
Ed Day, a Rockland County executive, echoed calls for Cuomo to intervene.
“The governor should immediately rescind the decision of the parole board,” said Day, who served with the New York City Police Department for 25 years before becoming an elected official.
“This is one of the most heinous crimes I have ever known about, and I dealt with some pretty bad ones,” Day said. “Given the depravity and the cruelty of this crime, I was shocked that he [LaBarbera] was paroled.”
Fox News contacted Cuomo’s office on Friday for comment, but did not receive a direct response to the growing calls for the governor to intervene. Instead, a statement from Thomas Mailey, spokesperson for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, suggested the New York State Board of Parole is "the sole entity that considers and determines parole eligibility... whose members have been nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate."
Mailey explained in his statement that "[by] law, before making a final decision, the Board members must follow statutory requirements which take into consideration many factors, including statements made by victims and victims’ families, as well as an individual’s criminal history, institutional accomplishments, potential to successfully reintegrate into the community, and perceived danger to public safety.” Mailey said Board members “base their decisions on whether the standards for release are satisfied. Additionally, by statute, the Board considers any recommendations concerning release to Community Supervision from the district attorney, sentencing court and the defense attorney."
The details of Bohovesky’s murder are brutal.
Shortly after 7 p.m. on Oct. 28, 1980, the girl left her part-time job at the Pearl River library and walked through the center of town toward her home on Hunt Street. The teen was within one block of her parents’ house when LaBarbera and McCain – both of whom had been drinking at the High Wheeler bar nearby – grabbed Bohovesky and dragged her behind a house on the corner of an intersection. McCain attempted to rape Bohovesky, while LaBarbera watched, according to police. When the girl fought back, McCain crushed her skull with a chunk of pavement.
Believing that Bohovesky was dead, LaBarbera then tried to sodomize the child. When she stirred, to his surprise, LaBarbera stabbed her with a knife five times in the back, killing her, police told Fox News.
“She fought them off to her death,” said Murphy.
By 10 p.m., when Bohovesky failed to return home, her parents reported her missing and a manhunt was quickly underway through the streets of Pearl River. Bohovesky’s body was discovered face down behind the home the next morning.
Kevin Nulty, the longtime Orangetown Police Chief, was a young patrol officer in Pearl River at the time of the murder.
“It was heartless,” said Nulty, who is now retired.
“This happened at what was probably the safest intersection in town,” he told Fox News. “It changed our town forever. It’s like a whole generation of parents never forgot what happened that night.”
“She was a very beautiful girl and a highly accomplished artist,” Nulty said of Bohovesky.
The outrage over LaBarbera’s reported release extends beyond Rockland County. Many New York lawmakers say the state is determined to lower the prison population and, in doing so, has adopted a system that puts the criminal before the victim.
In a statement released to Fox News on Friday, state Senate Republican leader John Flanagan fiercely criticized the decision to release LaBarbera.
Flanagan also cited another highly controversial move by the same parole board: the decision to release Judith Clark, a former Weather Underground radical who drove the getaway car in the infamous 1981 Brink’s heist, during which two police officers and a guard were killed. Clark was granted parole in April after serving more than 37 years in a New York prison. In 2016, Gov. Cuomo commuted Clark’s 75-years-to-life sentence and made her eligible for parole.
“Put simply, this is a disgraceful act by the Parole Board, and it adds to the growing list of killers that have recently been released – killers like Herman Bell, Judith Clark, and Matthew Solomon,” Flanagan said. “They’re likely not finished, either, as LaBarbera’s equally guilty and equally vicious accomplice is up for parole next month.”
“None of this would be happening if not for Governor Cuomo’s handpicked appointees, who have repeatedly ignored the voices of victims and their families in favor of the most vicious criminals in our society,” he said. “Shame on the parole board, shame on Governor Cuomo, and shame on the Democrats in the state legislature for allowing this madness to continue.”
“I believe in due process but there seems to be a push in New York state to get people out of jail,” added Nulty, who retired as police chief last month.
“For low-level crimes, that might make sense sometimes, but for violent crimes, it’s not worth the risk that another innocent child could be victimized,” he said.
The Bohovesky family, meanwhile, is hoping that the call to block LaBarbera’s release will be heard by Cuomo. Bohovesky’s mother, Lois, has spent the last 39 years ensuring her daughter’s killers remain in prison.
At trial, Bohovesky’s father, Basil, who died in 1987, wrote to the judge: "Many generations will have to pass to bring us another like Paula."
"Paula's physical beauty was ethereal and reminiscent of ancient art. She carried herself with grace and serenity. She was proud of her womanhood and walked straight and tall," wrote Bohovesky. "She was modest and generous and a friend to the friendless ... She was just starting to realize the joy of fulfillment in her work."
"Paula should have lived to be a mother. She should have lived to be a grandmother," he wrote. "We have lost her and her splendid progeny."
Fox News Investigative Producer Alex Diaz contributed to this report.