Sundiata Acoli (Clark Edward Squire), 85, will be released from prison after 49 years as decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, reported The Guardian. Acoli was the oldest former Black Panther to be incarcerated for the violence related to the Black liberation struggle from the 70s.
Acoli was imprisoned in May of 1973 for the shooting and killing of NJ state trooper Werner Foerster. Acoli was stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike with Assata Shakur and Zayd Malik Shakur in his vehicle. A struggle ensued resulting in Foerster and Zayd being killed. Acoli and Assata were wounded and arrested.
Following their arrest, Shakur was profiled as the FBI’s most wanted and fled to Cuba. Acoli was sentenced to life in prison with an additional 24-35 years. He was eligible parole 29 years ago however his request was denied multiple times.
More on Acoli from The Guardian:
Yet for more than a quarter of a century his prison record has been “exemplary”, the judges said. He had completed 120 courses while in prison, participated in counseling, had a constructive rapport with prison staff and fellow inmates, and had positive evaluations from prison officials.
Twelve years ago, a state-assigned psychologist assessed Acoli’s progress in prison and concluded that he was deeply remorseful for Foerster’s death and that it was “time to seriously consider him for parole”. Despite that, his parole was denied; in his latest parole hearing he was still being classified a potential danger to society.
The parole board had “lost sight that its mission largely was to determine the man Acoli had become”, the supreme court judges concluded. It added that his age, at 85, was another important factor that the board had failed to consider given that elderly people released from prison have extremely low rates of reoffending.
Acoli said his sentence was “obviously” too long and that he was “rapidly disintegrating” in front of his friends and family, per a letter he wrote to The Guardian. His civil rights attorney, Soffiyah Elijah, said she hoped his released would bring attention to the thousands of elders trapped in the NJ prison system.
“After 50 years of imprisonment, the Supreme Court has brought an end to a tragic episode from the civil rights era and recognized that we have to be humane in our parole process and not practice vengeance,” said Bruce Afran, Acoli’s previous attorney via The Guardian.
At least 12 more members of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army remain behind bars.