NILES - Convicted as the juvenile triggerman who murdered Niles police officer John Utlak 30 years ago, Fred Joseph Jr. will serve at least another 10 years behind bars, according to a parole recommendation released Tuesday.
The recommendation still must clear a quality assurance process but was the result of a parole hearing held Oct. 3 at Toledo Correctional Institution, according to Mike Davis, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
On Thursday, co-defendant Randy Fellows will have his parole hearing at Trumbull Correctional Institution.
''It was great news, considering they gave Joseph the maximum allowable until his next parole hearing,'' said Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins. ''I can't imagine them giving Fellows anything less than 10 more years.
"I don't think either of them should be released. If it were today, they most likely would have gotten life with no chance of parole,'' said Watkins, who tried both inmates.
Joseph wasn't eligible for the death penalty because he was 17 years old at the time of the murder. And jurors for Fellows, who was 19, said they couldn't opt for the death penalty because he didn't pull the trigger.
Fellows supplied Joseph with the gun and was instrumental in planning the death of the 26-year-old Utlak on Dec. 8, 1982. The Trumbull County coroner ruled Utlak had been shot with a .22-caliber weapon, later determined to belong to Fellows.
''The community that surrounded us in 1982 supported us again 30 years later,'' said Utlak's sister, Joanne Robbins, calling attention to an online petition drive that solicited letters to the Parole Board opposing the release of Joseph and Fellows.
''We still have the parole hearing (for Fellows) this Thursday. And this is something we most likely will have to go through again in 10 years,'' she said.
Utlak - who had been using Fellows and Joseph as drug informants - was killed when he met with them in a parking lot on Hunter Street.
The officer's .357-caliber handgun, 12-gauge shotgun, portable radio and $200 were missing from the murder scene.
Fellows and Joseph were arrested in Cheyenne, Wyo., days after the murder after Joseph was stopped for erratic driving. Fellows was found in a hotel room with a 12-gauge pump shotgun beside him.