SUFFIELD, Conn. — A parole board panel that had earlier approved the release of a convicted cop killer without any input from the officer's family rescinded that decision Wednesday after an outcry from the victim's relatives, prosecutors and police officers.
The panel voted 3-0 to revoke the parole it granted in January to Gerald "Gary" Castonguay, who is serving 25 years to life in prison for fatally shooting Plainville Officer Robert Holcomb in 1977.
Several members of Holcomb's family called for reforms to the state's parole system, saying they weren't notified about the hearing in January when the three-member panel voted to release Castonguay, now 71, in July. After they found out about it, hundreds of people from across the country flooded the parole board with emails and letters calling for it to reverse the decision.
"This has been a very difficult and trying last few months," Mac Holcomb, the slain officer's son, said after the hearing. "It is my prayer that no family should have to go through such a situation."
Plainville Police Chief Matthew Catania added, "It was a travesty of justice. To retraumatize this family is unforgiveable."
Dozens of police officers from across Connecticut attended Wednesday's hearing. After it was over and as Holcomb's family was leaving, a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as officers stood at attention outside the prison entrance.
The same three members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles that voted 2-1 to grant Castonguay parole in January voted to rescind it without discussion after hearing from several of Holcomb's relatives.
The board members left the hearing room without commenting.
The next time the board will consider whether Castonguay should get another parole hearing will be in five years.
When Castonguay was asked if he had anything to say at the hearing, he said, "I guess not."
He wore a beige prison suit and white sneakers. He shook his head sideways a few times as Holcomb's relatives spoke about how Castonguay "executed" Holcomb.
"Castonguay should remain incarcerated for the remainder of his natural existence," Holcomb's widow, Nancy Holcomb Searles, wrote in a letter read to the board by a relative Wednesday. She was too distressed to attend, said Maria Weinberger, Holcomb's niece.
Authorities say Holcomb, 28, chased Castonguay after a house burglary. Castonguay's first shot knocked Holcomb to the ground and then Castonguay fired three more shots into the officer's chest at close range, police said. Castonguay said at the January hearing that he didn't intend to shoot the officer and was simply trying to get away.
"He murdered him in cold blood," Mac Holcomb, who was 3 when his father died, told the parole board. "Losing him shattered our lives."
Before Holcomb's slaying, the then-33-year-old Castonguay told people he wanted to kill cops and had fired gunshots into two Bristol officers' houses while they were home with their families, prosecutors said. No one was hurt.
He was acquitted of the first shooting into the officer's home, prosecutors said, and he was found to have shot into the second officer's home but declared legally insane and was sent to a state psychiatric hospital and was released after six months.
State officials said that before the January hearing, they tried to reach Holcomb's relatives but were not successful. The board also sent notice of the hearing to state courthouses and posted it online. Prosecutors and Plainville police also said they weren't informed of the hearing.
State Sen. Henri Martin, a Republican who represents Plainville and Bristol, said lawmakers will be looking into the parole board's actions.
"We must take steps to strengthen the system so that what happened to the Holcombs does not happen to other victims' families in the future," Martin said in a statement Wednesday.