Family, victims fighting parole for Niles cop killer
An earlier parole hearing will be held on Wednesday for the man convicted in the 1982 murder of Niles Police Officer John Utlak.
A new state law in Ohio is giving a convicted Niles cop killer the opportunity for an earlier parole hearing on Wednesday.
Fred Joseph was 17 when he shot and killed Officer John Utlak in a premeditated murder along with his accomplice Randy Fellows on December 8, 1982.
Utlak's remaining family and other victims are outraged by Senate Bill 256, which allows juvenile offenders a chance at parole every five years after serving an extended period of time depending on the crime.
Joseph has remained in a maximum security prison for the last 7 years. He's served 28 years behind bars after he was sentenced in 1983 to life in prison with the chance at parole after 30 years. His last parole hearing did not grant him release.
"One of the worst psychopaths that I have ever seen," said Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, as he described Fred Joseph.
Watkins says Joseph pre-planned Utlak's murder along with Fellows, who is also in prison serving time for the shooting.
"He doesn't have a conscience and you're not going to grow one now," Watkins said.
He argues Joseph was a repeat juvenile officer, took drugs and torture animals before he was arrested and charged in the death of Utalk.
Since his conviction, Watkins say Joesph even told Corrections Officer Doug Sollitto that he would shoot police again if he had the chance.
Watkins says Joseph told the corrections officer he would shoot the first police officers that left the Niles police department upon his release.
UTLAK'S SHOOTING DEATH
Utlak's partner with the Niles Police Department, Bob Ludt, worries that if Joseph is released, he would try to finish the job.
"The plan was to kill both of us," Ludt explained. "They thought that if they could get both of us, that no one would know."
Ludt has a collection of newspaper articles, pictures of Utlak, his funeral and police burial. He also has one of the bullets recovered from the crime.
Watkins described how Joseph and Fellows were biting the ends of bullets before the crime and fired off shots in Fellows' bedroom with a .22 caliber weapon to practice before they targed Utlak and Ludt.
Ludt says the two men lured Utlak to a parking lot the night of the shooting under the guiese they would be helping them bust a drug deal in the city. They promised to help the two drug unit officers with the city's ongoing drug problem.
Ludt didn't buy that Joseph or Fellows were credible and told Utlak that day not to go. It was the last time the two spoke.
The next morning he learned Utlak was killed.
"I've lived with that thought, I've always dealth with that I should've been there, that I could have protected John," Ludt said.
Ludt describes it as a painful memory that he relives every year on the day it happened.
"I personally send flowers every year to his grave, this never goes away," he said.
Ludt believes parole hearings for someone like Fred Joseph is wrong.
"The process worked, now why go back and try and re-write the law?" Ludt said. "And take more power away from the system and the judges to make a reasonable decision on what the gravity and the evidence that's been presented... I think it's absolutely wrong, absolutely wrong."
Prosecutor Watkins says this was one of two cases in his 40 year career where a police officer was murdered on the job and knew the victim. He was against the law from the start.
"It was a poorly written law, unnecessary, something that the Ohio prosecuting attorneys were against Senate Bill 256," Watkins said.
Joseph will go before the Ohio Parole Board on Wednesday. He remains housed inside the maximum prison Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.