State Troopers PBA applauds the denial of parole for accomplice to murder of State Police Investigator
The State Troopers PBA commends the New York State Parole Board for denying the parole of Larry Comfort, an accomplice to the murder of New York State Police Investigator Robert L. Van Hall, Jr.
Comfort was an accomplice to his trigger-pulling brother in the unconscionable murder of Investigator Van Hall, who was shot in the back while working undercover on December 5, 1980.
“It is reassuring the parole board saw Larry Comfort for who he really is, a man who has no respect for the criminal justice system and the brave men and women who put their lives on the line each and every day to serve and protect the public,” said PBA President Daniel M. De Federicis. “This decision sends a very clear and strong message that violent offenses against police officers will not be taken lightly or tolerated.”
“Troopers who live and work in the greater Corning area have kept a close eye on this situation. Today they were able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Larry Comfort will not be released into society, where he would be free to live in the area where he committed such a horrendous crime,” said PBA Troop E Delegate Vincent Hill, who represents PBA members in the 10-county area covered by Troop E.
PBA President De Federicis also thanked the PBA membership – 5,900 active and retired members of the New York State Police from the rank of Trooper through the rank of Major – along with their families and friends, who have been actively lobbying against the parole of Larry Comfort through letters to the parole board.
The Leader newspaper of Corning published a story about the denial of Larry Comfort’s parole. To read the story, which includes comments from the PBA President, click on the following link or refer to the text below.
Comfort denied parole
BY JEFFERY SMITH
WALLKILL | Larry J. Comfort was denied parole Tuesday morning, 23 years after he and his brother were involved in the shooting death of an undercover state trooper.
Comfort’s application was denied by a Shawangunk Correctional Facility Parole Board that said releasing him would "depreciate the serious nature of the crime and undermine the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system," said Tom Grant, a state parole spokesman.
Comfort is serving 21.5 years to life for his involvement in the murder of State Police Inv. Robert L. VanHall. He and his brother, Joseph Comfort, confronted and shot VanHall and Inv. William Gor-enflo, who were posing as undercover drug smugglers.
VanHall, 35, was hit by a fatal shotgun blast from Joseph Comfort. Gorenflo was injured by a second round in a street battle on Market Street Extension Dec. 5, 1980.
"The board made the right decision," Gorenflo said Tuesday from his North Carolina home. "I was hoping this was the way it would come out, but you never know what a parole board might do. Thankfully the board did the right thing. This man belongs where he is, behind prison bars."
Larry Comfort was convicted in 1982 of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance. Three years later he won an appeal on the murder charge because his brother was found to be the trigger man.
Barb Carl, Larry Comfort’s sister, was disappointed with the decision.
"Well, we’re just going to have to live with it," Carl said Tuesday. "(Larry) said we’re just going to put it in God’s hands and live with the decision, and that’s what we are going to do."
Carl said she is glad the parole hearing is over.
"Every time he comes up for parole, it brings us back 23 years and we have to deal with that," Carl said. "It’s tough."
Comfort’s next parole hearing will be in December 2005.
"He’ll get the same thing then, because he should never get out," Gorenflo said.
The Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers applauded the decision.
"It is reassuring the parole board saw Larry Comfort for who he really is: a man who has no respect for the criminal justice system," said PBA President Daniel M. DeFedericis.
Gorenflo and VanHall were part of a four-man undercover narcotics squad investigating local drug trafficking.
At about 10 p.m. Dec. 5, 1980, they were trailing the Comfort brothers with information they had purchased cocaine in Florida.
Gorenflo said he and VanHall were set to meet other undercover officers at Dunkin’ Donuts on Denison Parkway to obtain an arrest warrant. He said he pulled through the intersection of East Market and Conhocton streets and noticed a vehicle driven by Larry Comfort heading straight toward him.
The vehicles collided and shots were fired by Joseph Comfort, who had been lying in the back seat with a shotgun, Gorenflo said. One shot fatally struck VanHall in the chest. The collision drove the cars into the parking lot of a nearby car wash.
Gorenflo said he jumped out of his car and fired back at the two fleeing subjects.
Joseph Comfort circled the car wash building and came through one of the bays with his shotgun drawn and fired, Gorenflo said. The shotgun blast hit Gorenflo’s revolver, splintering the gun. Part of the shell went through the his face and shoulder.
Gorenflo said he crawled back to his vehicle and radioed for help.
According to trial testimony, Larry Comfort ran into nearby Prisella’s Bar, located where the current Spencer’s Restaurant is now, and shouted someone was trying to kill him and his brother. He grabbed two beer bottles, ran back into the street, and called for his brother’s whereabouts.
According to an eyewitness, Joseph Comfort appeared on the steps of the bar. He uttered the words "I got him, I got them both," and went into the bar to have a beer, the witness said during the trial.
The Comforts thought they were being followed by Florida drug dealers to whom they owed money, according to court records, and did not know they were being pursued by undercover police officers.
While he was on the pavement, Gorenflo remembered other officers soon arrived immediately and took the Comforts into custody.
Joseph Comfort was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance.
He currently is serving 33.3 years to life in Auburn Correctional Facility. He is not eligible for parole until February 2014, according to the state Department of Corrections.
The brothers thought the investigators, who were undercover, were affiliated with Florida drug dealers from whom they had obtained 28 ounces of cocaine, according to court records.
VanHall was buried four days later. Gov. Hugh Carey and more than 1,000 state troopers attended the funeral. He was a former Green Beret and seven-year veteran of the state police.