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Ex-Black Panther Convicted of Murdering NJ Trooper in '73 Granted Parole

a black and white photo of the late trooper Werner Foerster
New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster (Tim Larsen/AP)

By    |   Wednesday, 11 May 2022 11:01 PM EDT

Sundiata Acoli, the oldest living former member of the Black Panthers who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey State trooper 49 years ago, has been granted parole.

On Tuesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled 3-2 in allowing Acoli — the Black Liberation Army activist who killed Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973 — his release from prison.

"When I talked to Sundiata today and told him that the court had ruled in his favor, I must've repeated it at least six times ... It was surreal for him," attorney Soffiyah Elijah told CBS News.

The 85-year-old Acoli reportedly has dementia, and he will be moving in with his daughter who lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Since 1993, Acoli had appeared before a New Jersey parole board eight times; and in each instance, a commutation of his life sentence (plus 24 to 30 years) was denied.

However, 29 years after that first parole hearing, Acoli will be free.

"In light of Acoli's verbal renunciation of violence as an acceptable way to achieve social change; more than two decades infraction-free in the federal prison system; the multitude of programs and counseling sessions he completed; his honor status as an inmate; his acquisition of vocational skills; and his advanced age, it is difficult to imagine what else might have persuaded the board that Acoli did not present a substantial likelihood to reoffend," wrote Justice Barry Albin in the New Jersey high court ruling.

Albin added there was no "substantial credible evidence" that Acoli posed a risk to the public.

"When a parole decision is so far wide off the mark, or so manifestly mistaken under the governing statutory standard, intervention is required in the interests of justice," said Judge Albin.

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy was not pleased with the court's decision.

"I am deeply disappointed that Sundiata Acoli, a man who murdered Trooper Werner Foerster in cold blood in 1973, will be released from prison," Murphy said.

"In 1996, Governor [Christine] Whitman signed a law ensuring that anyone who murders an officer on duty will receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, and I profoundly wish this law had been in place when Acoli was sentenced in 1974."

Acting New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said, "I am grateful to the attorneys in my office who opposed the release of Sundiata Acoli, and I am disappointed that he will be released on parole."

Citing the court document, on May 2, 1973, Acoli, formerly known as Clark Edward Squire, was riding with James Costan and Joanne Chesimard (now known as Assata Shakur), when they were stopped by Trooper James Harper for a broken taillight.

Foerster arrived as backup as Acoli exited the vehicle to speak with Harper and patted down Acoli, finding a gun and ammunition.

Chesimard then opened fire on the troopers, striking Harper in the shoulder, and a gunfight ensued between the two groups — eventually leading to Foerster's death.

Shakur (formerly Chesimard), who was also convicted, escaped to Cuba where she remains on the FBI's listing of "Most Wanted" fugitives.

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Sundiata Acoli, the oldest-living former member of the Black Panthers who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey State trooper 49 years ago, has been granted parole.
new jersey, black panthers, parole, board, court
Wednesday, 11 May 2022 11:01 PM
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