“I profoundly wish this law had been in place when Acoli was sentenced in 1974,” Governor Murphy said in a statement. “Our men and women in uniform are heroes, and anyone who would take the life of an officer on duty should remain behind bars until the end of their life.”
Soffiyah Elijah, a civil rights attorney who advocated for Mr. Acoli, praised the Supreme Court for “correcting the Word Board’s improper application of the law.”
Ms. Elijah said in a statement: “We appreciate and thank his thousands of supporters from the attorneys, individuals and community organizations to those who submitted amicus briefs on his behalf to champion his freedom; freedom that is rightfully his. We strongly hope that Mr. Acoli’s freedom will bring attention to the thousands of elders like him trapped in the New Jersey prison system.”
On May 2, 1973, Mr. Acoli was driving a white Pontiac on the New Jersey Turnpike with two fellow members of the radical Black Liberation Army, James Costan and Joanne D. Chesimard. A trooper, James Harper, stopped the car at about 1 am, having observed a broken taillight.
Trooper Foerster, a married 34-year-old officer who lived in Old Bridge, NJ, arrived on the scene as backup.
Ms. Chesimard, who at the time was a leading figure in the Black Liberation Army, fired the first shot, according to trial testimony, starting a shootout among her, Trooper Harper and Mr. Costan.
During the melee, Mr. Acoli attempted to grab Trooper Foerster’s gun, according to the decision.
“In the course of that physical struggle, Acoli claims that Trooper Harper fired at him, grazing the top of his head and causing him to black out,” the decision stated. “According to Acoli, when he regained consciousness, Trooper Foerster’s body was lying on the ground nearby and Acoli fled with Costan and Chesimard, both severely wounded.”