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The New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that Sundiata Acoli, a former Black Panther, was convicted of the 1973 murder. New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerstercan be released on parole after spending nearly 50 years in prison.
Acoli, 85, was complicit in Assata Shakur, born JoAnne Chesimard, who was also convicted of Forester’s murder. Shakur later escaped from prison and fled to Cuba, where former Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro granted her asylum.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state probation board illegally rejected Acoli’s request for release in 2010, stating that he would pose a threat to public safety if he was granted probation.
“Even under the most respectful standard of probation, the Board has not been able to prove with a preponderance of evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that Acoli will commit a crime if released on parole. Acoli must be released because the statutory standards for providing parole has been met, without regard to extraneous factors such as sympathy or passion or public opinion, “said civil rights lawyer Soffiyah Elijah, one of Acoli’s primary advocates, in a Tuesday statement.
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Elijah continued: “We applaud the New Jersey Supreme Court for granting Mr. Acoli’s liberty and correcting the Probation Board’s wrongful application of the law by rejecting his request for release after serving more than 49 years in prison. It is now time for Mr. Acoli to live the rest of his life in the loving care of his family and community. “
On May 2, 1973, Coli was driving with other Black Liberation Army members Chesimard and James Costan – all three armed with handguns – when New Jersey State Trooper James Harper stopped their vehicle for a broken taillight on the New Jersey Turnpike. Acoli first left the vehicle to speak to Harper when Foerster arrived at the scene, according to court documents.
Foerster searched Acoli and uncovered his gun and ammunition. During that interaction, Chesimard shot Harper in the shoulder, and a shootout ensued between Harper, Chesimard, and Costand. Meanwhile, Acoli tried to take Foerster’s gun. Acoli claims Harper shot at him at the time, grazing the top of his head and causing him to faint. When he regained consciousness, Acoli says he saw Foerster’s lifeless body on the ground and fled with Costan and Chesimard.
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Foerster was survived by his wife and sonthere were 3 years at that time.
A jury found Acoli guilty of all charges in 1974.
New Jersey State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan said Foerster’s widow is “just as devastated and disappointed by this decision” as he is.
“Acoli’s release is not only an injustice to the Foerster family and the men and women who serve in the New Jersey State Police, but to any law enforcement officer in this state who dedicates their lives to the safety of the citizens we have sworn to protect. said Callahan. “Last Monday, 49 years ago today, Trooper Foerster did not get another chance when he was murdered at the New Jersey Turnpike, leaving a widow and a 3-year-old son. Under today’s law, Acoli would be in jail for life. without the possibility of parole. “
Callahan added that while no one can change the laws that were in place when the 1973 incident took place, “he was hoping that understanding the risks law enforcement officers face on a daily basis would have helped keep Acoli in jail for the rest of his life. ” New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman signed a law in 1996 that would ensure that anyone convicted of killing an officer on duty would be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Activists including Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors have praised Shakur and Acoli for their actions after Foerster’s death.
“We appreciate and thank his thousands of supporters from lawyers, individuals and community organizations to those who submitted amicus briefs on his behalf to fight for his freedom; freedom that is rightfully his. We strongly hope that Mr. Acoli’s freedom will bring attention to the thousands of elders like him trapped in New Jersey’s prison system, “Elijah concluded.
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New Jersey. Gov. Phil Murphy said he was “disappointed” with Acoli’s release in a Tuesday statement.
“I am deeply disappointed that Sundiata Acoli, a man who murdered trooper Werner Foerster in 1973, will be released from prison. Our men and women in uniform are heroes, and anyone who would take the life of an officer on duty should stay behind bars until the end of their lives, “he tweeted.