What to know
- In 1973, Sundiata Acoli, better known as Clark Edward Squire, was convicted of murdering state trooper Werner Foerster during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.
- Now, fifty years later, lawyers are arguing before the state Supreme Court that he should be released from prison.
- This comes despite the state’s pardon board believing Acoli, now 80, has a high likelihood of committing a crime in the future.
Attorneys argued before the state Supreme Court on Monday, a New Jersey man was found guilty of killing a New Jersey state trooper nearly 50 years ago in one of the state’s most notorious crimes. future crime.
Sundiata Acoli was known as Clark Edward Squire when he was convicted of killing State trooper Werner Foerster in 1973 during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Also convicted was Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Panther and Black Liberation Army, who later escaped from a prison in New Jersey and fled to Cuba. She changed her name to Assata Shakur and remained a fugitive, becoming the first woman in 2013 on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list.
Now 85 and suffering from early dementia, Acoli has been a model prisoner with no offenses for nearly three decades and has been commended for advising other inmates, his attorney argued. . They added that he received extensive counseling, attended more than 150 courses while in prison and expressed regret over Foerster’s death.
“There is no question about the gravity of the crime and the tragedy that ensued, but a desire not to let the police killer’s hands down can never be the guide for an agency,” attorney Bruce Afran said. told the court, citing a 1979 parole change to laws that placed a higher burden on parole boards when it was found that an inmate was at risk of recidivism.
Acoli’s bid to be released has dragged on for more than a decade. He qualified for a pardon in 2010 and was denied, but a state appeals court reversed that in 2014 and ordered his release. The Supreme Court reversed that in 2016 and sent the case back to the full pardon panel for review, and the panel again rejected Acoli’s bid.
In a 2-1 ruling at the end of 2019, another appeals court upheld the panel’s decision, agreeing with the panel’s conclusion that there was a substantial possibility that Acoli would commit another crime if released.
Acoli’s attorneys released that conclusion on Monday, accusing the board of ignoring relevant evidence such as Acoli’s expressions of remorse and his exemplary behavior in prison. Instead, Afran argued, the panel presented no objective evidence to support its argument that Acoli would repeat the offense, and gave too much weight to remarks he made at the hearing. council’s most recent series of events leading up to the shootings.
According to court documents, Acoli’s gun went off during a struggle with Foerster, who responded as a back-up measure after another officer flipped the vehicle over because of a damaged tail light. Disputing state Shakur shot Soldier James Harper wounding him, then took Foerster’s gun and shot him twice in the head as he lay on the ground. The third man in the car, James Costen, died of his injuries at the scene.
Acoli has stated that he lost his mind after being grazed by a bullet and cannot remember what happened. During the board’s final hearing, when asked to speculate on how Foerster died, he said it could have been due to friendly fire from another officer.
That response shows that despite Acoli claiming responsibility, “he’s going to blame the victims here,” Stephanie Cohen, the state’s assistant attorney general representing the pardon panel, told the court. . The board did not find Acoli’s expression of remorse credible and felt he did not fully understand why he believed violence was necessary to effect social change, Cohen added.
The board also did not consider his prison record sufficient to grant him pardon.
“Being a model prisoner is not necessarily a model citizen,” she said.
Justice Barry Albin – who was on trial in 2016 and filed a dissent when Acoli’s bid was rejected – on Monday noted that in addition to his behavioral record, Acoli was cited in the table. The hearing point said the violence was wrong and responsible for Foerster’s death.
“What more could he do?” he asked Cohen. “You don’t seem to acknowledge his deeds, and you don’t believe his words either.”
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/national-international/court-mulls-parole-of-man-convicted-in-new-jersey-troopers-1973-death/3129315/ Court Mulls Parole Man Convicted in 1973 New Jersey Soldier’s Death – NBC10 Philadelphia