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HILL KIN ACT TO KEEP PHOTOS FROM KILLLER

Every time Lawanda Hill's family members think of what a judge's ruling may give her killer, heartbreak, disbelief and anger spill from them.

Rodney D. James, who is in prison for the 1992 fatal shooting of Ms. Hill, has inched closer to his goal of obtaining graphic police photographs and a videotape of his former girlfriend's slain body.

Her family wants James stopped.

"He killed her, isn't that enough?" asked Mary Hill, the mother of the 23-year-old victim. "What he should get is life in prison."

The Hills say they never agreed with the decision by the Erie County district attorney's office to allow James to plead guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter.

"He should have never been allowed to plea-bargain. We were never notified of when to come to court. We read in the newspaper he got three to nine years. If we were there, we would have spoken against it. We wanted a murder trial," said Brenda Hill, Lawanda's sister.

Because of the controversy created by James' demand for the photographs, the family members believe they have been given an unexpected chance to speak out.

They not only want James stopped from getting the pictures, but also stopped from gaining an early release from prison.

"We hear he is seeking parole, and we are against it," Brenda Hill said.

James, according to his mother, appeared before the state Parole Board last week at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora and is now awaiting a response to his petition for an early release from prison.

Cedrick Newkirk, a close friend of the Hill family, said: "The Hills are poor and don't know the procedures for protesting this. What they do know is that Lawanda was scared to death of Rodney and was planning to break up with him."

One lawyer already has started helping the Hills in their fight against James.

Kathleen E. O'Hara, an assistant city corporation counsel, is appealing State Supreme Court Justice Rose D. LaMendola's decision ordering the city to release the 14 crime-scene photographs. Ms O'Hara argues that James' freedom-of-information request is an invasion of privacy.

She also plans to provide the Hills with the names of several lawyers who might be willing to assist them in notifying state parole officials that they object to an early release from prison.

Virginia James says her son has told her he needs to examine the photographs because he may uncover evidence to back up his claim that the slaying in his Fillmore Avenue home was accidental.

If the photos prove helpful, the former Collins Correctional Facility guard will use them in his effort to seek a pardon from Gov. Pataki, Mrs. James said.

But the Hills have serious doubts about the 38-year-old inmate's intentions.

"It's not right. He took enough. He took her life," Brenda Hill said, weeping. "I don't think he wants those photos for good reasons. He wants them for a trophy or something."

Authorities say there is no new evidence to be found in the material, and they suggest James may want the pictures to sell to other inmates or to a lurid Internet Web site or keep them to display in his prison cell as proof he is "macho."

In defending her son's character, Mrs. James described him as a man who reads the Bible.

To this, Mrs. Hill responded: "So why is my daughter dead? Didn't his mother teach him that the Bible says, 'Thou shall not kill'?"

Speaking in the living room of their modest East Side home, the Hills said they are never far from the memory of their daughter and sister.

"Lawanda left behind her little boy, Timothy," Brenda Hill said. "He's 8 years old, and he still asks when his mommy is coming home."

As for Rodney James, the Hills say they hope he never returns home to Buffalo.

"He needs to be in prison the rest of his life. You don't go around killing people," Mary Hill said, lowering her head as she was overcome by another wave of grief.

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