As 78-year-old cop killer faces parole hearing, system faces costs of elderly prisoners

This guy is even lucky he is alive! Oh, those bleeding hearts will always be that way until one of their family members is murdered by a lowlife….

Inmate put behind bars after 1967 bank robbery shootout

Today, Henry Michael Gargano is a 78-year-old rare-coins expert who has suffered two heart attacks, contends with emphysema and takes at least 12 medications.

He also is a cop killer, bank robber and two-time prison escapee who had been scheduled to be paroled on Sept. 3 from a federal penitentiary.

Now, his release is uncertain. Opposition from the Northlake Police Department, which lost two officers in the bloody 1967 bank robbery in which Gargano participated, prompted the U.S. Parole Commission in July to reconsider its decision to free Gargano, who is serving a sentence of 199 years. After a lengthy delay, the commission recently set the special reconsideration hearing on Gargano’s parole for Dec. 13.

Apart from the emotions that remain close to the surface 43 years after Gargano and two others killed Northlake Officers John Nagle and Anthony Perri, Gargano’s case represents the overlapping of larger issues — the complications of handling a growing elderly prison population and the murky concept of when a criminal has paid for his crime.

Nearly 75,000 of the 1.43 million inmates of state and federal prisons were 55 years or older in 2008, the most recent year for Department of Justice figures. That level is down slightly from 2007 but still 71 percent higher than the number of older inmates housed in prisons in 1999.

An older inmate costs an estimated $70,000 a year to house, which is two to three times higher than an inmate who is 20 to 30 years old, said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project. The national organization promotes alternatives to incarceration, among other criminal justice reforms.

Research shows that older inmates are far less likely to return to prison than inmates in their teens and 20s. Add that to the demand for prison cells and the tendency of younger inmates to prey on weaker, elderly prisoners, Mauer said, and releasing the older prisoners makes sense.

“How much punishment is enough?” Mauer said. “There’s no question it’s a serious crime. At the same time, (Gargano) didn’t get a death sentence. It’d be hard to argue that he hasn’t served a significant period of time. This is not exactly a slap on the wrist.”

Still, some in the justice system contend that a 199-year sentence for an inmate signals to parole commissioners that the prisoner should remain incarcerated until death releases him or her. And the U.S. Parole Commission has a history of rejecting parole for inmates who have killed a police officer while committing another crime.

That’s what happened to Ronald Del Raine, one of the men who, with Gargano, killed the Northlake police officers during the 1967 robbery. Clifton O. Daniels, the third man convicted in the crime, died in prison. Del Raine and Daniels received the same sentence as Gargano. The parole commission on Nov. 8 rejected Del Raine’s bid for release, stating that “his release would be incompatible with the public safety.”

Del Raine has attempted two prison escapes since 1975. Gargano also has tried to escape twice from prison, but his prison record has been clean for a decade. About two months ago, he was transferred from a penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., to a medical correctional center in North Carolina, which will be the site of the Dec. 13 hearing.

“Just because he’s decided for the last 10 years to stop escaping from prison and start abiding by the rules, that doesn’t forgive killing police officers and depriving their families,” said Northlake Deputy Police Chief Norman Nissen Jr., who leads the opposition to Gargano’s release. “He doesn’t impress me as somebody who will be able to come back to society and follow the rules.”

Born in Chicago, Gargano became a serious criminal at an early age and remained one, even after he was arrested, charged and convicted for the Northlake murders and bank robbery.

At 14 years old, he burglarized a restaurant and was sentenced to a juvenile reformatory, records show. At age 17, Gargano used a sawed-off shotgun in robbing a grocery store. At 20, he committed an armed robbery of a law firm and followed that with the robbery of an Indiana bank in 1956.

The bank robbery earned Gargano an 18-year prison sentence, which was interrupted by a three-day escape. He was paroled in March 1967.

On Oct. 13 that year, Gargano and three others allegedly robbed a supermarket in Canton, Ohio, and wounded two police officers, but escaped. Two weeks later, about 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 27, Gargano pulled a bandana over his face, donned a hat, concealed his eyes with sunglasses, then walked in the Northlake Bank with two accomplices.

Armed with a Browning automatic rifle, 351 Winchester self-loading rifle and several handguns, the three men took $83,783 from the bank and ran into the parking lot, court records show. Northlake Detective Sgt. Nagle and Officer Perri were among the four local police who arrived as the robbers left the bank building.

Gargano and his two accomplices opened fire on the officers’ cars before they came to a stop, police said. During the brief but fierce gun battle — some estimates state that more than 100 shots were fired — Nagle was shot in the head and Perry was struck several times. Two other officers were wounded.

Court records state that numerous witnesses saw Gargano stand over the wounded Perri and fire several bullets into the officer’s body, an accusation Gargano vehemently denies.

Wounded in the right arm, Gargano fled with one accomplice by car. The third robber, also wounded, was unable to escape. Four days later, authorities tracked Gargano and his co-conspirator to a cottage near LaPorte, Ind., arrested them and recovered about $47,000 of the stolen money.

He pleaded guilty in July 1968 at a hearing that was preceded by a shocking discovery: jail guards had found a loaded revolver on Gargano as he stepped from his cell. Seven years later, he and four other inmates escaped from a maximum security prison in downstate Marion, took a farm family hostage and stole firearms and a car.

He was apprehended four days later and received another five years on his sentence. Since then, Gargano was cited for attempted escape in 1978 and 1985 and marijuana possession in 2000.

At Gargano’s last parole hearing on Jan. 6, his case manager “described the subject as not a problem in the housing unit but instead was a calming factor,” the hearing summary states. “This examiner believes that the subject will not engage in further criminal activity and believes that the evidence of this is his clear conduct for the past 10 years and his advance in age and poor health.”

Gargano declined to comment for this article, but in his one interview, in 1981, he showed virtually no remorse for killing the two police officers, wounding two others and being implicated in shooting two more.

“I don’t feel any remorse about those dead cops,” he told a Chicago Tribune writer. “When you get hit or you hit someone in a shootout, that’s a fair confrontation, like in Viet Nam. It can’t be helped.”

It was perhaps an astonishing admission for any inmate, but even more noteworthy for Gargano.

From the time Gargano was 14 years old until he turned 24, his father worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as a police officer.

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