Court stops parole bid for Sundiata Acoli

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Sundiata Acoli #39794-066 (Squire)
FCI Cumberland
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. BOX 1000
Cumberland, MD 21501

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – New Jersey’s Supreme Court has put the brakes on the parole bid of a man convicted in the 1973 murder of a state trooper.

The justices on Thursday granted the state attorney general’s request that Sundiata Acoli not be paroled until the court decides whether to hear arguments in his case.

Acoli, then known as Clark Edward Squire, was convicted with current fugitive Joanne Chesimard in the murder of trooper Werner Foerster during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Chesimard was found guilty but escaped from prison and eventually fled to Cuba, where she was granted asylum by Fidel Castro. She is now living as Assata Shakur and is the first woman placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List.

Last fall, an appeals court reversed a parole board panel’s decision and ordered Acoli released. The attorney general’s office says the court should have sent Acoli’s case to the full parole board for a rehearing. Acoli remains incarcerated.

According to court documents, Acoli’s gun went off during a struggle with Foerster, who had responded as backup after another officer pulled over the car for a broken tail light. The state contended Chesimard shot Trooper James Harper, wounding him, then took Foerster’s gun and shot him twice in the head as he lay on the ground.

A third man in the car, James Costen, died from his injuries at the scene.

Acoli has claimed he was grazed by a bullet and blacked out, and couldn’t remember the exact sequence of events. He was sentenced in 1974 to life in prison plus 24 to 30 years. He currently is in prison in Otisville, New York, about 75 miles northwest of New York City.

State police and public officials had hoped that President Barack Obama’s plans to normalize full diplomatic relations with Cuba would lead to Chesimard’s return, but Cuban officials said they have the right to grant asylum to U.S. fugitives.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., pressed the State Department on Chesimard at a Thursday hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee on human rights in Cuba.

Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson testified that Cuban leaders have “said they are not interested in discussing” Chesimard’s return.

“Let me also say that every time I talk with the Cuban government, I mention the case of JoAnne Chesimard,” Jacobson said. “I’m a daughter of New Jersey. I grew up with this case, and other fugitive cases.”