The man who killed Larchmont police Officer Arthur Dematte 46 years ago has been granted parole after more than a dozen rejections and will be released from prison next month.
Anthony Blanks, 69, a Missouri native with limited family support, will leave Sing Sing by Oct. 18 once he completes a program for reintegration into the community, according to the state Department of Correction and Community Supervision.
The decision following a parole interview earlier this month enraged Larchmont police who have fought to keep Blanks behind bars for more than two decades, but was hailed by those who insist he has served long enough and no longer poses a threat.
On Oct. 12, 1976, Dematte responded to a report of someone interfering with trains along the New Haven Railroad tracks.
Behind the Daitch Shopwell supermarket, he approached Blanks, who managed to get Dematte’s gun and shoot the officer.
Dematte started to run off but Blanks pursued him and shot him in the chest. Blanks tried to flee in the officer’s car, but it got stuck. He left the empty gun in the car and hid in some shrubs and was shot in the leg by responding officers.
Blanks, who had a history of mental illness, had walked from New York City after arriving there from St. Louis a few days earlier to look for a job. He said he had not eaten in two days and had taken PCP during that time.
The jury that convicted him of first-degree murder in 1978 rejected his lawyer’s argument that Blanks suffered from extreme emotional disturbance at the time of the killing. By that time, capital punishment had been abolished and Blanks was sentenced to the maximum 25 years to life. He spent almost as long behind bars while eligible for parole as he did on his original sentence.
Detective Ralph Santoliquido, who was a training officer for Dematte when he joined the department in 1957, was the first to reach the mortally wounded officer.
In a letter to the parole board when Blanks first became eligible in 2001, Santoliquido detailed his last words with Dematte before he was taken to the hospital. He wrote of Dematte's wife and four children − including a teenage daughter, Jane, who rushed to her father's side from her job at the supermarket − and how Blanks' "selfish, brutal and uncaring criminal act" meant he should never reenter society.
"May Anthony Blanks receive the same eternal sentence he gave Arthur Dematte, only without the violence, eternal life in prison," wrote Santoliquido, who died in 2015.
Dematte’s family and the police union have opposed Blanks’ release ever since.
A vigil in celebration of Dematte’s life and to remember his sacrifice is scheduled for Oct. 12 at 5 p.m. at the Ptl. Arthur Dematte Memorial Park at the corner of Palmer Avenue and Parkway Street in the village.
Sgt. Dan Calapai, the Larchmont PBA president, bemoaned the parole decision and said the membership had almost become resigned to it as they saw other New York cop killers released in recent years.
More frequent parole hearings every nine months instead of two years meant it was harder to mount a strong letter writing campaign. Calapai said he feared that if fewer people wrote in opposition, commissioners were wrongly taking that to mean Dematte’s colleagues in blue had softened.
"Our feelings are definitely that this is politically driven and it's failing victims' families," he said.
But Clifford Jackson, a Larchmont resident who struck up a correspondence with Blanks over the past three years and wrote to the parole board on his behalf last month, said the decision was the right one. He said Blanks is in poor health and has shown remorse.
"It was long overdue. He poses no threat to society," Jackson said in a phone interview Thursday. "His life has been destroyed by what he did all those years ago. He more than paid his debt to society."
Jackson said the circumstances of the killing − a mentally ill Black man with no history of violence confronted by a white police officer − did not absolve Blanks of responsibility but highlighted the nuances that should have led to his release earlier.
"(Police) were looking for him to rot in jail ... that this is a punitive action designed to destroy the person no matter the circumstances," Jackson said. "He's not a danger. He's going to struggle to survive. It's going to be hard for him just to get out of bed."
Transcripts of Blanks’ parole interviews in recent years showed he had not secured adequate housing and had limited family support, key factors weighed by commissioners in addition to the seriousness of the crime.
In his last failed bid in December, the commissioners also assailed Blanks for his suggestion that maybe it was time for Dematte’s family to move on after so many years.
The slain cop's relatives could not be reached. But in a letter to the parole board in 2019, his daughter Jane opposed parole and said there would never be any forgetting of what Blanks had done.
Asked if he has a message for Blanks as he prepares to be released, Calapai struggled for the right words.
"I think he has a responsibility to (Dematte's) family," Calapai said. "He owes them a great deal and I don't think there's anything that could ever quantify it."
Reach Jonathan Bandler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-694-3520.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Blanks granted parole after 46 years in killing of Larchmont officer