CAMDEN, N.J. - A split New Jersey Supreme Court granted parole Tuesday to a former militant convicted in the 1973 death of a New Jersey state trooper, in a case that has resonated for decades and been a thorny issue in U.S.-Cuba relations.Sundiata Acoli is in his mid-80s and had had several parole bids rejected previously.
His attorneys argued he has been a model prisoner for nearly three decades and has counseled other inmates.The state parole board had contended Acoli still is a risk to commit future crimes and hasn’t taken full responsibility for Trooper Werner Foerster’s death.Acoli's more-famous co-defendant, Joanne Chesimard, also was convicted and sentenced to a life term but escaped from a New Jersey prison in 1979.
Now known as Assata Shakur, she was given asylum in Cuba by then-President Fidel Castro and remains a fugitive.In Tuesday's 3-2 ruling with Chief Justice Stuart Rabner not participating, the court held that the state parole board didn't meet its required burden of demonstrating there was a substantial likelihood of Acoli committing another crime."No member of the Court disputes that Acoli committed a horrific crime," Justice Barry Albin wrote for the majority. "The issue, however is whether Acoli, after nearly five decades of imprisonment, has satisfied the statutory demands that govern his parole eligibility."Albin noted that if the crime had occurred today, Acoli would have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, but that New Jersey law at the time allowed for parole."However despised 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," Albin wrote.In a.