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Parole hearing recalls slaying of Niles officer

The juvenile killer of a Niles police officer in 1982 has had his parole hearing moved up because of a new state law that is giving juvenile murderers more chances at freedom.

Fred E. Joseph Jr., convicted in 1983 and sentenced to 30-years-to-life in the slaying of Niles patrolman John A. Utlak, will face a parole hearing this September.

Authorities had originally set a 2022 date for a parole hearing, after Joseph’s bid for parole in 2012 was rebuffed. But a new law approved by the Legislature during a 2020 lame duck session and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine on Jan. 3 this year, states all juvenile offenders must have a chance at parole.

A grandson of a murdered 94-year-old woman at the hands of a juvenile offender said recently the new law should have been named the “Teenage Killer Protection Act.”

“The law applies retroactively, which makes zero sense,” said Brian Kirk, whose grandmother, Marie Belcastro, was brutally murdered by 15-year-old Jacob LaRosa of Niles in 2015.

Now another Niles murder case is being reopened, according to Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, who said the new law is opening a Pandora’s box for the public.

Sometime in September as the summer of 2021 fades, Joseph, who was 17 at the time of Utlak’s killing, will face a panel of three from the Ohio Parole Authority outside his cell at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. If the parole board rules in favor of Joseph, now 55, the prison website said he would be eligible for release on Nov. 1.

Read more in Sunday’s Tribune Chronicle.

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