New Jersey’s revised parole laws went into effect in April 1980, including a requirement for the court to set a restitution amount as a condition for release. But the first case to test this law caused a statewide uproar.
Thomas Trantino and Frank Falco pistol-whipped and shot 2 police officers in August 1963. Falco was killed a few days later, but the 25-year-old Trantino turned himself in. Sentenced to the electric chair, Trantino saw his sentence commuted to life imprisonment when the US Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972. Eight years later, Trantino was granted parole. All that remained was for a judge to tell him how much he owed the families. The town of Lodi, where the murders occurred, hosted numerous angry protests.
But on October 2, 1980, Judge Theodore Trautwein ruled that putting a price on human life was beyond his capability – which was, in a way, moot, as Trantino – who’d sold artwork as well as his autobiography while in prison – argued he could not afford to pay a penny.
The New Jersey Supreme Court elected to keep Trantino in prison. Denied once more in 1982, further revisions to parole law in ‘84 ensured Trantino could not apply again until 1992, except on the condition of good behavior. In 1988, after 4 years of good behavior, he applied, was denied, and was denied again in 1990, 1998, and 1999.
He was released on February 11, 2002 – his 64th birthday. He became a motivational speaker.