A former member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army convicted of murder in the slaying of a state trooper in 1973 has a new development in his case. The Supreme Court of New Jersey ordered parole for Sundiata Acoli, now 85 years of age.
Gothamist reports that the state’s highest court made the decision via a 3-2 ruling on Tuesday (May 10). According to those close to Acoli, he is currently suffering from dementia and the court’s opinion states that the State Parole Board denying Acoli parole “is not supported by substantial evidence in the record or by a reasonable weighing of the relevant factors.”
Acoli was convicted in the May 1973 shooting death of State Trooper Werner Foerster during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. Acoli was first eligible for parole in 1993 but was subsequently denied eight times. Since the conviction, Acoli, according to his legal team, transformed himself into a model prisoner.
“This is a decision of humanity and a recognition of the importance of the rule of law,” Acoli’s lead lawyer Bruce Afran said to Gothamist. “The killing of a police officer is always something we abhor but the court here has said that when a man has demonstrated that he has changed and he has put behind him that history, we must now give him the benefit of the rule of law.”
Acoli was reportedly a mentor to younger inmates and completed dozens of programs while maintaining an incident-free stay in prison for the past 25 years.