New Jersey’s Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed a ruling that would have paroled a man convicted in the 1973 killing of a state trooper in a case that still generates controversy in the state and beyond.
Sundiata Acoli was known as Clark Edward Squire when he was convicted of killing State Trooper Werner Foerster during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Also convicted was Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Party who later escaped from prison and fled to Cuba. She changed her named to Assata Shakur and remains a fugitive.
Last fall, Gov. Chris Christie and the head of the agency that runs New York-area airports called for United Airlines, the dominant carrier at Newark Liberty Airport, to refrain from launching flights from there to Cuba until Chesimard is returned to the United States.
To set Acoli free “would have been a travesty of justice and another slap in the face to the law enforcement community and the victims of these crimes,” state troopers’ union head Chris Burgos wrote in an email Tuesday. “We will follow the remanded parole process closely going forward, so that all affected can have their voice heard and keep the likes of Squire locked up and away from a civil society.”
The state attorney general’s office said in an email it was “pleased that a majority of the Court saw fit not to let stand an incorrect lower court decision that would have freed Mr. Acoli.”
A two-person parole board panel rejected Acoli’s parole attempt in 2011, but a state appeals court reversed that in 2014 and ordered him released. He has remained in prison while the case is on appeal.
The appeals court judges determined that the parole board panel ignored evidence favorable to Acoli and gave undue consideration to past events, such as a probation violation that occurred decades earlier.
The state appealed the decision, claiming by law Acoli’s bid should have gone back to the full parole board before a final decision was made.
In reversing the appeals court’s ruling, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote for a 4-1 majority that a full board hearing “shall permit the victims of Acoli’s criminal acts to be heard, if they wish, by the Board prior to a decision on his parole.”
In 2013, state and federal authorities announced a $2 million reward for information leading to Shakur’s capture, and the FBI made her the first woman on its list of most wanted terrorists.