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Convicted NJ State Trooper Killer Sundiata Acoli Can Live Final Years Free Man

Sundiata Acoli (inset) with Joanne Chesimard.
Sundiata Acoli (inset) with Joanne Chesimard. Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot photos

The 85-year-old man convicted of killing a New Jersey State Trooper in 1973 has been granted prison release by the New Jersey Supreme Court after serving a 49-year sentence, overturning a 2019 Appellate Court ruling.

The court's majority opinion found Parole Board did not meet its obligation to prove that Clark Edward Squire, who changed his name to Sundiata Acoli, would commit another crime if released.

The Black Panther and Black Liberation Army member was convicted along with fugitive Joanne Chesimard for gunning down NJSP Trooper Werner Foerster during a New Jersey Turnpike stop.

Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said he was disappointed in the move.

“I am grateful to the attorneys in my office who opposed the release of Sundiata Acoli and I am disappointed that he will be released on parole," Platkin said.

"Under New Jersey law today, if an individual murders a law enforcement officer on duty he is never eligible for parole—a decision that reflects the heinous nature of that crime. 

"I will always stand up for the safety and well-being of our law enforcement officers, including the brave Troopers of the New Jersey State Police."

Acoli was denied parole in 2011 — a ruling that the state Appellate Division reversed three years later, contending that the Parole Board ignored evidence in Acoli’s favor and put excessive weight on a probation violation from decades ago.

At about 12:45 a.m. on May 2, 1973, NJSP Trooper James Harper stopped a Pontiac Lemans with Vermont plates for having a broken tail light and “slightly exceeding” the speed limit on the Turnpike.

Inside was Chesimard, along with the driver, Zayd Malik Shakur (born James F. Costan), and Acoli. Foerster pulled in behind as backup — barely 200 yards south of the Turnpike Authority administrative building at Exit 9.

Acoli’s gun went off during a struggle with Foerster, wounding him, and that Chesimard took Foerster’s gun and finished the job by shooting him twice in the head as he lay on the ground, authorities said.

This was after she shot NJSP Trooper James Harper, they said. Shakur was shot in the battle and died at the scene.

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