A panel of the State Parole Board voted 2 to 1 yesterday to release Charles E. Friedgood, a wealthy Long Island surgeon who was convicted in 1976 of murdering his ailing wife and who is now, at 89, the oldest state prison inmate in New York. He is expected to be freed in mid-December and admitted to a veterans’ hospital.
Reversing a ruling announced on Oct. 10 by a panel of three other parole commissioners, the majority concluded yesterday, “There is reasonable probability that, if released, this inmate will live and remain at liberty without violating the law.”
He was ordered to participate in an anger-management program and mental evaluation and not to contact “the victim’s” family — including his own children and grandchildren — without the permission of a parole officer.
It was the sixth time a board had considered Dr. Friedgood’s release since he served the minimum of his 25-years-to-life sentence in the 1975 murder at the family’s 18-room residence in Great Neck, on Long Island, where he and his wife, Sophie, raised their six children.
One of his daughters, Esther A. Zaretsky, a lawyer, represented him in a second court case that challenged the parole process by arguing that under Gov. George E. Pataki the board routinely refused to release violent felons. Her co-counsel in that case, John F. Queenan of Albany, said yesterday, “We got what we’ve been fighting for.”
The board said yesterday, “While some have formally expressed opposition to this inmate’s release, for various reasons, they are significantly outnumbered by those expressing support for release.” Those included the Nassau County prosecutor who handled the case; various relatives, clergymen and prison employees; and several public officials, including Marty Markowitz, the borough president of Brooklyn, where Dr. Friedgood practiced.
The board said that Dr. Friedgood’s crime “was horrendous and cannot be excused, explained or forgotten” and that it had “a deep and profoundly negative impact upon the victim’s family.” Against that, the board weighed his advanced age; his medical condition; and his positive record in prison, including saving the lives of a guard who was having a heart attack and an inmate who was choking.
Dr. Friedgood has terminal cancer and has undergone numerous operations, including a colostomy. As far back as 2000, it was estimated that his medical bills had already cost the state nearly $300,000.
Sophie Friedgood’s death certificate recorded the cause as a stroke, but the police were suspicious because Dr. Friedgood had signed the certificate himself and quickly sent the body out of state for burial.