A Republican rival blasted state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Friday for initially recommending parole for a convicted sex offender in December, then reversing his stance.
Republican John Cahill said Schneiderman is “sadly more focused on politics than on the actual business of protecting women and victims of sexual assault.” A Schneiderman spokesman called the claim “absurd" and indicated the reversal came about after a comprehensive review of the case.
At issue is a March decision by the state Parole Board to release Ronald Bower, a Queens man who has served more than 20 years after being convicted of sexual abuse, sodomy and robbery. The charges stemmed from incidents in Nassau and Queens counties in 1990 and 1991.
Bower, 53, is still being held at Clinton Correctional Facility, near the Canadian border. But he is slated to be released soon, a state prisons spokesman said Friday.
Schneiderman’s office initially recommended parole for Bower. In a December letter to the board, the head of Schneiderman’s division that reviews convictions said “it appears highly unlikely that Bower committed the crimes for which he was convicted.” The letter noted Bower already had served a significant amount of his 18-to-54 prison sentence.
The board granted parole, citing the attorney general’s recommendation, according to published reports. But board members also said prosecutors should have dismissed the charges if they felt Bowers was innocent rather than put the issue in their laps.
Immediately thereafter, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice asked the Parole Board to “re-examine its decision” while it “conducts a comprehensive investigation” of Bowers’ case, according to letters provided by Schneiderman’s office, which joined in the review.
In May, when Bowers faced a hearing to determine his status as a sex offender, Harlan Levy, Schneiderman’s chief deputy, backed off the attorney general's initial conclusion. He said the original contention that Bower was not guilty “is not supported by the evidence.”
Schneiderman officials said their Conviction Review Bureau initially was hampered by uncooperative witnesses and other factors. Thomas Schellhammer, the aide who wrote the letter recommending parole, has been dismissed.
Cahill, a Yonkers resident who was a top aide to former Gov. George Pataki, called Schneiderman “incompetent.”
“It's shocking that the attorney general would actually recommend the release of a convicted sex offender without providing a shred of new evidence,” Cahill said in a statement. “Now, five months later, he flip-flops on the case resulting in even less confidence in the state's top law enforcer. It's one thing to be silent, it's another to be incompetent.”
A Schneiderman campaign aide called the criticism baseless.
“The independent Parole Board – whose members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate – decided to release a man who served 23 years in prison. The board did so based on its own criteria, not any letter from the attorney general’s office,” said spokesman Peter Ajemian. “The suggestion that Attorney General Schneiderman has been anything but tough on crime is absurd. He’s prosecuted identity theft, kept sexual predators away from kids online, cracked down on prescription drug abuse, and busted prostitution and drug-trafficking rings.”