Terrence McTigue remembers that September night in 1976 all too well.
As one of the New York Police Department's bomb squad experts, he and several other officers had removed a bomb planted by Croatian nationalists in Grand Central Terminal and were attempting to disarm it in a Bronx disposal area. Then it exploded.
His partner, Officer Brian Murray, 27, the father of two, was killed. Two other officers were wounded. McTigue lost the sight in one eye and two fingers on one hand, and suffered severe injuries on his other hand plus facial injuries that even 13 major operations could not heal.
When Frane Pesut, 38, one of the Croatian terrorists convicted of hijacking an airliner in connection with the bombing, appears in a Buffalo immigration courtroom today to fight deportation efforts, McTigue is hoping for justice.
"He's going to try to parlay killing a policeman and maiming others into staying in the land of the free," McTigue told The Buffalo News. "That would be the ultimate irony."
Pesut will appear before Immigration Judge Thomas M. Ragno to fight efforts by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport him. Although he was convicted only of air piracy and not the bombing charge, he was given a 30-year sentence. He ultimately was allowed to serve his time in the medium-security facility at Ray Brook and paroled after 12 years.
But McTigue, now 53 and retired in Rockland County, has followed the case closely since all five were given lengthy prison sentences. They were convicted of commandeering a New York-to-Chicago flight over Buffalo and taking it on a three-day odyssey to France. The Grand Central bomb was planted, they later said, to help convince authorities their efforts were serious.
The group also said they were attempting to call attention to the cause of Croatian independence from Yugoslavia.
McTigue has testified at parole hearings held for various members of the band. With Pesut's release this week, McTigue remains "disgusted" by a system that has allowed three of the five to leave prison.
Unlike Pesut, the other two who were released are U.S. citizens and were allowed to resume their lives in this country.
"My problem is with people who used every freedom available to citizens of this country to subvert the freedoms of others," he said. "Then they compound the injury by taking those freedoms and twisting them against you. Anyone who does that surrenders their rights."
While Pesut claims he will be persecuted and jailed if deported to Yugoslavia, immigration officials are branding him a "terrorist" and seeking to remove him.
McTigue couldn't agree more. He maintains that the entire group received preferential treatment from the beginning of the case -- from the thousands of dollars raised by sympathetic Croatian-Americans to hire the prestigious law firm of the late Edward Bennett Williams, to the dropping of state charges against them, to their early release from "country club" prisons. He also dismisses Pesut's claim that he knew nothing about the hijacking until the group's leader threatened the plane with what appeared to be sticks of dynamite.
The tales of the band's activities aboard the hijacked airliner also have helped him resolve to keep them imprisoned. He said the trial revealed some hostages were forced to huddle around the dynamite sticks, a priest was forced to administer last rites and others were made to eat glass and drink from toilets.
"And they couldn't give a damn about the tens of thousands of people walking by that bomb in Grand Central," he said, describing it as particularly lethal because of the shrapnel resulting from dynamite hidden in a steel locker.
McTigue, who retired from the Police Department as a lieutenant after the accident, keeps busy these days by consulting and by working through a police support group counseling police officers and firefighters permanently injured on duty. He relays his feelings without bitterness, even though he admits his life revolved around surgery and skin grafts for many years.
But McTigue does insist that justice should be served, reiterating that Pesut and the others should not count on American freedoms after their crimes.
"The whole thing just wears you out. I have precious little faith," he said. "If there was any justice, they never even would have been paroled."