Preview – John Lennon’s Killer–Will He Ever Be Paroled?

Directly across the elevators on the 6th floor of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is a large wall—a montage of giant-sized newspaper articles spanning decades. The headlines and articles are about famous cases the office has handled. One of them is an almost life-sized photo of Mark David Chapman when he was 25 years old. The photo was taken soon after Chapman’s arrest for the murder of John Lennon. He shot Lennon four times outside Lennon’s residence at the famed upper west side apartment building called the Dakota. Yoko Ono was at Lennon’s side at the time. It was December 8, 1980. That life-sized photo of Chapman and all those historical articles were my view, as I stepped on and off the elevators for almost a decade at the DA’s office.

Chapman murdered Lennon six years before I became an Assistant District Attorney but his was a case we discussed periodically since it was so newsworthy. A few years after I joined the office, I brought my sister and brother-in-law to the NYPD police academy to tour part of the facility since it included forensic labs. We spoke to a few officers who conducted ballistics tests. One of them even demonstrated a test by firing a gun into a huge vat filled with water. The officers then brought out the gun that Chapman used to kill Lennon. It was safely housed at the department, and was one of the more notorious pieces of evidence in its collection. As creepy as it was to look at, it was still fascinating to see this piece of history.

Chapman spared the expense of a trial by pleading guilty to second degree murder in exchange for a sentence of 20 years to life. His attorneys had planned to assert an insanity defense which they were confident would be successful. (Lennon’s murder was the year before Hinckley tried to assassinate President Reagan so perhaps he would have convinced a jury that he was legally insane.)

In 2000, Chapman started coming up for parole and has been before the New York parole board every two years since then. Each time, Yoko Ono who never remarried, submits her opposition to the board. And each time, Chapman is denied release. His most recent hearing was on August 24, 2016. Just last Friday, the New York Department of Corrections released the transcript of that hearing. I don’t have the transcript yet but I hope to have it soon. But a flurry of articles summarizing the hearing was published Friday giving some insight into the dialogue between Chapman and the three members of the Parole Board.

According to published reports, when asked why he fired so many times, Chapman, now 61, answered: “To ensure his death.” He also said he considered saving the last bullet for himself but conceded he was too cowardly to commit suicide.

Chapman is up for parole again in 2018. While he has had some support for his release, I suspect that he may never be free; if that happens, though, he will either be very sick or very old.

Below are links to Chapman’s parole hearing transcripts from 2008 to 2016: