NEW YORK CITY — The “Silver Gun Rapist” who sexually attacked a dozen women two decades ago has been paroled from prison — but not before igniting a controversy that prompted a top official in the state Attorney General’s office to quit.
Ronald Bower was freed June 12 after serving 23 years of a 54-year sentence in connection with gunpoint sex assaults in Queens and Nassau County.
The Parole Board said its decision was influenced by the recommendation of Thomas Shellhammer, then head of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s newly formed Conviction Review Unit.
Last Dec. 30, Shellhammer, who was investigating Bower and his supporters’ longstanding claims of innocence, wrote the Parole Board that he believed “it was highly unlikely that [Bower] committed the crimes for which he was convicted.”
Shellhammer was ostensibly asking the board to free Bower in the interest of justice.
But proper protocol instead called for him to contact the district attorneys who convicted Bower — Queens DA Richard Brown and Nassau DA Kathleen Rice — to seek their input before reaching any conclusions.
Once the DAs were involved, he should have asked the courts to overturn the convictions — not have the Parole Board free him.
"He went around speaking to former investigators and came around to the view that the only thing he could do was endorse (Bower) at his Parole Board appearance," said Bower's lawyer, Jeremy Goldberg.
When Brown and Rice learned of Shellhammer's letter to the board, they protested to Schneiderman.
On May 28, Schneiderman’s Chief Deputy Attorney Harlan Levy wrote the Parole Board that the AG’s office conducted “a further review” of Bower’s case and now believed Shellhammer’s claim of Bower’s innocence “is not supported by the evidence.”
It was a stinging reversal.
And Shellhammer, a former top prosecutor at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, resigned. He did not return a message seeking comment.
Despite the rebuke, his letter left an impression on the board and Bower was released.
Last week, the 53-year-old ex-con was declared a registered Level 3 sex offender, the top category. And he has moved to an apartment on Main Street in Jamaica, Queens, not far from the scene of his gunpoint assaults on women in Forest Hills and Port Washington in Nassau County.
Bower, his lawyer and supporters including several retired law enforcement officers, insist that he was wrongly convicted. They believe that a former NYPD police officer — who looks like Bower and who was acquitted of several similar attacks at the time — was likely responsible.
But several appeals to state and federal courts have failed. The DAs believe they have the right man and Bower has virtually run out of legal options to clear his name.
“He is doing very poorly,” Goldberg said. “He’s pretty much helpless, in emotional collapse and, essentially, he's destroyed by this.”