The New Jersey Supreme Court has granted parole to former Black Panthers member Sundiata Acoli after spending 49 years in prison for the murder of a state trooper.
The top court ruled that 85-year-old Acoli, whose given name was Clark Edward Squire, was no longer a risk to public safety, overturning a parole board’s decision.
The court also noted in its ruling that Acoli first became eligible for parole 29 years ago under the terms of his sentence, but his release was denied every time he came before the panel.
The judges also noted that Acoli’s age was another significant factor that the board had failed to consider in his release.
The ruling came 49 years after Acoli was found guilty for the May 1973 shooting death of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster. He was sentenced to life plus 24 to 35 years.
Acoli’s co-defendant Assata Shakur — previously JoAnne Chesimard and who pulled the trigger on Foerster — fled to Cuba where she has been granted asylum.
Acoli is the oldest of at least 12 former members of the Black Panthers and its armed wing Black Liberation Army still to be incarcerated for acts of violence during the 1970s Black liberation struggle.
The State Troopers Fraternal Association (STFA) condemned the decision to free Acoli as “a gut-wrenching blow” to the Foerster family, the police, and the law enforcement community.
“This decision is a slap in the face to every brave law enforcement officer in our nation,” STFA said in a statement.
Governor Phil Murphy also criticized the decision, saying that he was “deeply disappointed.”
“Anyone who would take the life of an officer on duty should remain behind bars until the end of their life,” Murphy said.
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