Nick Gangi has not seen his biological father, John Jackson, since he was a toddler. And he’s fighting to keep it that way.
Jackson, who was convicted of beating and strangling his wife and Nick’s biological mother, Elizabeth Gangi, in their Bellmore home in 1995, will be considered for parole next month after having served nearly the minimum of a 25-years-to-life sentence. Now 62, Jackson is imprisoned upstate.
As the parole interview nears, an online petition on behalf of Nick and his family has collected more than 12,500 signatures to ask for support to block Jackson’s release.
“I don’t want him to be out there and trying to find me,” said Gangi, 26, who now lives in Connecticut. “He took a life away. … He’s never shown remorse. He never apologized. He never took responsibility for it.”
Jackson, who is in Bare Hill Correctional Facility near the U.S.-Canada border, is not represented by an attorney. In a March 4 letter to Newsday, he maintained his innocence, insisting he was wrongfully convicted and set up by police detectives who didn't have another suspect.
"I would like the chance to prove to my son that I am innocent and try to be a part of his life, as well as take care of my mother who is now 82 and could use my help," he wrote in the letter.
The online petition on behalf of Gangi and his family was created two months ago by the Long Island/New York Metro Area chapter of Parents and Other Survivors of Murdered Victims Outreach, which offers support for family members of murder victims.
The petition detailed the killing of Elizabeth Gangi, whose body was found by her father, Peter Gangi, after the 28-year-old mother didn’t show up to pick up her 2-year-old son.
“Her father climbed through a window where they found John passed out drunk in the bathtub and Elizabeth beaten and strangled on the floor,” the petition reads. “Nicholas had two moms due to Jackson’s actions.”
For Barbara Connelly, the executive director of the local chapter of the outreach group, the question of whether felons convicted of murder deserve another chance in society was an easy one.
“Do I believe in second chances for those who don’t do violent crime? Yes,” the 79-year-old grandmother said. “I don’t believe in second chances for murderers.”
Connelly and her family had repeatedly fought the release of a man who was convicted of killing her 15-year-old son in the heat of an argument, stabbing him 22 times in 1979. Her husband had a heart attack at the morgue and died eight years later at age 43.
“There’s not a second chance for my family. He ended a person’s life,” said Connelly, of Shirley. “All these people did what they did intentionally. They knew what they were doing.”
However, Barbara Allan, co-founder of Prison Families Anonymous, believes prisoners can change, and that they deserve a fair chance for parole if they have had a good institutional record.
"I’m not saying they should be forgiven for their crime," said Allan, 84, of Central Islip. “But if we are a society that believes in compassion and redemption, when one person has spent 25 years in prison and has done well … I believe they should be able to have the opportunity to meet the parole board [who will] determine whether they will be a threat to society.”
For Nick Gangi, justice would mean that Jackson spends the rest of his life in Bare Hill.
Raised by his maternal grandparents, whom he called mom and dad, in Bellmore, Gangi doesn’t remember his biological mother. He only knows snippets of her life and the vague connection it had with his own.
He knows she played clarinet like he did. He knows he went to the high school she attended. He knows she wanted to become a police officer but worked in the post office instead.
He was "shocked" to learn that she had applied to study electrical engineering in college after he had received his bachelor's and master's degrees in the same field.
He missed her at his graduations. He thought of her at his wedding last year during a mother-and-son dance.
Just three months ago, he lost his parents Gloria, 87, and Peter, 86, who died within two weeks of each other.
“They’d be doing this probably harder than I am,” Gangi said. “I’m doing what I want to, plus what they would have wanted.”
The parole board’s online calendar did not list the date for Jackson’s interview next month. But a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said a decision typically comes down within two weeks after the interview date and that process won’t be affected by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Newsday submitted a FOIL request for Jackson’s institutional record in February. In a response, the department said it estimates to provide a response in writing by June 18.
If Jackson’s parole is granted, he could be released as early as Aug. 27. If denied, he’s eligible for parole every two years.
And Nick Gangi said he is prepared to fight every step of the way.