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Convicted cop killer sues state over parole reversal

Even now, five decades later, Albert Victory claims he was caught in the middle.

Yes, he was with the guy who shot and killed New York City Police Officer John E. Varecha. But he was trying to break up the struggle, not escalate it, he insists.

A jury found differently and sentenced Victory to 25 years to life in prison.

Now 76 and free, Victory is still fighting his murder conviction as part of a 15-year-old civil suit that brought him to a Buffalo courtroom last week.

"I was convicted of something I didn't do, I really didn't do," he said after his federal court appearance. "I've been fighting for justice my whole life."

Filed in 2002, Victory's suit is based on his case before the state parole board while he was an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility, which is why the suit was filed here.

The parole board granted Victory's request, but later reversed itself when then-Gov. George E. Pataki, who was publicly opposed to violent felons getting parole, learned of his release and reportedly pressured the board to block it.

Victory sued and a Wyoming County judge gave Victory his freedom in 1999.

His pending lawsuit is based, in part, on the additional months he spent in prison while challenging the parole board's reversal.

Victory's suit claims politics interfered with his rights to an early release from prison.

"He was granted a privilege, and we feel politics took that privilege away," Norman P. Effman, one of his lawyers, said last week. "When a wrong is done, you try to right it."

Victory acknowledges his goal is a monetary settlement, a prospect much more likely now that his case is heading to trial, and he makes no apologies for that.

In a key ruling last month, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny denied the state's motion to dismiss the case and removed the last legal obstacles standing between Victory and a jury.

Skretny set a trial date of Sept. 26 and, in doing so, set the stage for a possible settlement.

"Fifteen years is too long," the judge said of the case's age last week. "We need to get this done."

Victory's legal battle with New York State is rooted in the October 1968 murder of Officer Varecha, a rookie two months away from his one-year anniversary with the force. The shooting followed a traffic stop that turned quickly into a struggle.

There was evidence at the trial that Victory and Ronald Bornholdt, the man he was with, assaulted Varecha and that the policeman fought back with his nightstick and eventually drew his gun.

Prosecutors also argued during the trial that Victory and Bornholdt lured Varecha into a nearby alley where Bornholdt shot the officer four times.

Convicted of murder in 1970, Victory and Bornholdt were sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison.

Eight years later, Victory escaped from Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County by bribing two guards. He spent the next three years on the run in California.

Captured near San Francisco, Victory returned to prison and, by most accounts, was a model inmate until he was released.

New York City's police union reacted with outrage at the news of Victory's release in 1999 and called for an end to discretionary parole.

"That was just more piling on," he said of the board's reversal. "I'm 76 years old. I can't tell you the torture I've been through."

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