[Pnews] Appeals court denies Sundiata Acoli's latest bid for parole

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 27 18:40:50 EST 2019



  Appeals court denies cop killer’s latest bid for parole

December 27, 2019

A man convicted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey State Police trooper 
should not receive parole anytime soon, an appellate panel has concluded.

Sundiata Acoli, now 82, was convicted along with Joanne Chesimard in the 
shooting death of Trooper Werner Foerster 
and wounding of Trooper James Harper during a traffic stop on the New 
Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick.

A three-judge appellate panel affirmed the state parole board’s denial 
of Acoli’s latest bid for parole, with one judge dissenting.

Formerly known as Clark Edward Squire, Acoli was sentenced in 1974 to 
life plus 24 to 30 years in prison for his crimes. Chesimard escaped 
from prison in 1979 
and fled to Cuba. She remains on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Acoli was denied parole in 1994 and 2004, with the parole board citing 
“continued anti-social behavior” and continued denial of the evidence 
presented at his trial.

After a two-member parole board panel denied him again in 2010, Acoli 
appealed and the state appellate court ruled in 2014 that he was wrongly 
denied parole 
ordered his release.

The state attorney general and parole board appealed that ruling to the 
state Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court ruling 
2016 and ordered that he receive a hearing before the full parole board.

While Acoli previously stated that he blacked out during the 
confrontation with the troopers because of a graze wound from a bullet 
and didn’t remember how Foerster died, he speculated during this new 
hearing that another trooper “probably” shot Foerster with a “friendly 
fire shot.”

Acoli and Chesimard were members of the Black Panthers and the militant 
Black Liberation Army at the time of the shooting.

Trooper James Harper stopped their car for a broken tail light just 
after midnight on May 2, 1973. Harper called Foerster for backup and 
Foerster discovered Acoli had a gun, according to previous reports.

During a gun battle, Chesimard shot and wounded Harper and Foerster was 
shot when Acoli’s gun fired during a struggle between the men. The 
prosecution argued that Chesimard then took Foerster’s gun and shot him 
twice in the head. The defense argued that Chesimard was too badly 
injured from her own gunshot wounds to have killed Foerster.

A third man in the car with Acoli and Chesimard, James Costan, was shot 
and killed at the scene.

In seeking parole, Acoli claimed he led a crime-free life for about 40 
years and took “full responsibility” for Foerster’s death. The parole 
board didn’t buy it, though, calling it “disturbing” that he would raise 
the friendly fire theory — which is not supported by ballistic evidence 
— while also claiming he took responsibility for the crime.

The parole board found there remained a “substantial likelihood” he 
would commit new crimes if released from prison. His bid for parole was 
denied and a 15-year period of parole ineligibility was set.

In reviewing his appeal of that decision, the appellate court ruled 
that the parole board’s decision was reasonable and supported by 
“substantial credible evidence.”

Appellate Judge Garry S. Rothstadt, disagreed with his colleagues’ 
decision. In a dissenting option, Rothstadt said Acoli had been a model 
prisoner for decades and that the parole denial included no evidence 
that he was likely to commit new crimes if released.

He said Acoli’s new speculation about how Foerster was shot doesn’t 
change the fact that he has expressed remorse for his part in the crime.

Acoli, one of the state’s oldest and longest-serving inmates, is 
currently housed at a federal prison in Maryland.

/Matt Gray may be reached at //mgray at njadvancemedia.com/ 
<mailto:mgray at njadvancemedia.com>/. Follow him on Twitter 
//@MattGraySJT/ <https://twitter.com/MattGraySJT>/. Find //NJ.com on 
Facebook/ <https://www.facebook.com/NJ.com>/./

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