After Serving Nearly 50 Years For The Murder Of A New Jersey State Trooper, A Revolutionary Is Free
The court ruled 3 to 2 that the parole board had not determined that Acoli was likely to commit another crime if released and found that “Acoli’s record on more than a quarter of century has been exemplary”.
Acoli has heart problems and is losing his sight, Afran said. He also suffers from memory loss. He added that Acoli felt remorse for his role in Foerster’s death.
“He had a very moving understanding of the tragedy that had happened. He even told the [parole] advice, ‘I know Trooper Foerster’s son has lost his father. My kids at least still have me even though I’ve been away,” Afran said.
“He sincerely expressed this deep sense of sympathy.”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter when the court ruled he was “deeply disappointed”, Acoli would be released. “Our men and women in uniform are heroes, and anyone who would kill an officer on duty should remain behind bars for the rest of their lives,” Murphy said.
In an earlier statement, New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan called the court’s decision “a slap in the face to every officer.”
A broken rear light
The tragedy took place on May 2, 1973.
Acoli, formerly known as Clark Edward Squire, was in a car with two other members of the Black Liberation Army – James Costan and Joanne Chesimard – when they were stopped on the toll road by trooper James Harper for a broken taillight. All three in the car were armed.
Foerster arrived as reinforcements and searched Acoli, finding a handgun. A shootout ensued which left Harper injured and Foerster and Costan dead. Foerster had been shot four times, although it remains unclear who fired the fatal shots, according to court records.
Acoli maintained that he lost consciousness after being grazed by a bullet during the shooting and does not remember what happened that night, according to court records.
Chesimard, who now goes by Assata Shakur, broke out of prison and fled to Cuba. She remains on the FBI’s most wanted list.
The issue before the high court was not Acoli’s guilt or innocence; he focused on whether the parole board had followed the law in its assessment of Acoli.
“It is a decision of humanity and a recognition of the importance of the rule of law,” Afran said after the High Court decision. “Killing a police officer is always something we abhor, but the court here said that when a man has demonstrated that he has changed and put that story behind him, we must now give him the benefit of the rule of law.”
“Rule of law requires”
Acoli’s lawyers said their client had committed no offenses in the last 25 years of his imprisonment, had attended more than 100 programs and counseling sessions, and had taught a course to young inmates on “rational thinking and emotional control”.
The Supreme Court wrote that the parole board was entitled to deference “but not blind deference” and failed to show what crimes it feared Acoli would commit at his age.
“As despised as Acoli may be in the eyes of many because of the notoriety of his crime, he too is entitled to the protection of the law – and to the fair and impartial administration of justice. This is what our commitment to the rule of law demands,” wrote Justice Barry Albin.
Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin, a Democrat whose office opposed Acoli’s release, reiterated those objections in an earlier statement. When Acoli was convicted, state law still allowed people who killed police officers the option of parole.
Gonna try to talk
Afran described his client as “engaged in the violent revolutionary movement of the 1960s and early 1970s,” but who had long since abandoned any intention of seeking change except by peaceful means. And his life in prison for the past 40 years demonstrates it.
Afran said Acoli would continue to be an activist, “as far as his age and health permit, and I’m quite confident he will try to speak out on the issues.”
Rosa Foerster, the widow of the slain soldier, moved to Florida years ago. Someone who identified himself as Foerster’s nephew and a sergeant with the Florida Sheriff’s Department wrote a reflection on Foerster’s Officer Down memorial page, commenting in part, “I suppose a person who is willing to Killing a New Jersey State Trooper out of sheer hate poses no danger to the public? I miss you and keep thinking about you often.