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Parole granted for 1 of 3 killers in gruesome 2002 Niagara Falls murder

One of three men who took part in one of Niagara Falls' most heinous murders will be released from prison next month.

The state Parole Board last week decided to free Kyle A. Cummings, now 32, on or before Oct. 10.

Cummings, then 15, took part in the killing of Jennifer M. Bolender, 16, on the night of Dec. 14, 2002, on a pedestrian overpass above the LaSalle Expressway. Today it's called the Jennifer Bolender Memorial Overpass.

The Niagara County district attorney opposes his release.

"To this day, it's still the most brutal and gruesome crime I've ever come across in my career," said District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek, who prosecuted the case.

She still keeps a small photo of Bolender in her office.

"I don't want to ever forget her and why I do this work," Wojtaszek said.

Jennifer M. Bolender. (Photo provided in December 2002)

As Cummings watched, Bolender was stabbed and stomped repeatedly by Daniel W. Pardee, then 19, near the base of the overpass. Trial testimony indicated Pardee was frustrated by Bolender's refusal to kiss him.

Pardee used Cummings' switchblade in the attack, Wojtaszek said. Cummings and Pardee dragged the girl's body 137 feet to the top of the overpass and left her for dead.

The pair ran to Cummings' home on 72nd Street, where they told Cummings' brother, Christopher D. Cummings, then 14, what they had done. The three sliced open their thumbs in a blood oath to keep the secret. Then they returned to the scene.

Christopher Cummings, using a kitchen knife, cut Bolender's throat from ear to ear. Pardee stabbed her 40 or more times in the face, chest, abdomen and legs, Wojtaszek said. A medical examiner testified Bolender was still alive when the second attack began.

Kyle Cummings watched all this and cleaned off a railing Pardee had touched with his bloody hands, Wojtaszek said. Then he took part in burying the girl's coat and the three attackers' bloodstained clothing in the Cummings backyard.

Four days later, police tracked down Kyle Cummings, who confessed to everything and led police to the buried clothing and the sewer grate where he had tossed the switchblade, although it wasn't found.

Kyle Cummings pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as a juvenile offender and was sentenced to six years to life. Christopher Cummings, a month before he and Pardee were to be tried, also pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to nine years to life, the maximum sentence at the time for a juvenile offender.

The brothers testified against Pardee, who was old enough to be sentenced as an adult. He was convicted of murder and conspiracy in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek on Sept. 11, 2019, with a photo she keeps in her office of murder victim Jennifer M. Bolender. (Thomas J. Prohaska/Buffalo News)

"Two of them had what I call dead eyes. Nothing there. Frightening," County Judge Sara Sheldon said at Kyle Cummings' sentencing. "But not Kyle. He has life in his eyes. There's hope for Kyle."

In preparing for the trial, "I went back to the scene with Kyle and a police escort," Wojtaszek recalled. "He took me through it minute by minute on the overpass. I'll never forget it."

The prosecutor wrote letters opposing parole for either brother every time they were scheduled to go before the Parole Board.

According to the state prison website, Christopher Cummings' next parole hearing is set for November 2020. After he admitted to assaulting a prison worker, 18 months were added to his minimum sentence, Wojtaszek said.

Kyle Cummings is expected to live with his sister in Niagara Falls, Wojtaszek said, citing a Sept. 3 letter from the Parole Board to the victim's mother, Tina Berry, who now lives in Florida.

The letter gave no explanation for the Parole Board's decision.

"The board members base their decisions on whether the standards for release are satisfied by law," the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said in a statement Wednesday.

"Before making a final decision, the board members must follow statutory requirements which take ‎into consideration many factors, including statements made by victims and victims’ families, as well as an individual’s criminal history, institutional accomplishments, potential to successfully reintegrate into the community, and perceived danger to public safety," the statement continued. "Additionally, by statute, the board considers any recommendations concerning release to Community Supervision from the district attorney, sentencing court and the defense attorney."

Berry didn't respond to a request for an interview, although Wojtaszek said she talked to the mother for an hour by phone Tuesday about her "trials and tribulations" since Jennifer's killing.

"I say to every victim in every case, don't tie your recovery to the criminal justice system," Wojtaszek said. "Shortly after the trial, it was just a wave of emotion that hit her. She was determined to get through the trial. She was just left with her grief."

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