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Former Black Panther serving life sentence for shooting a cop denied parole

Sundiata Acoli, 80, who is a former Black Panther, has once again been denied parole from prison and must serve another 15 years before going in front of the parole board again. Acoli was sentenced to life in prison for the 1973 killing of a New Jersey State Trooper, during a shootout on a desolate highway. He was arrested along with Assata Shakur, for the death of the cop. After being convicted, Shakur escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she has been living since being granted political asylum.

Acoli was first eligible for parole in 1992 but was denied because the New Jersey State Police vigorously opposed his release. The decision to deny Acoli’s release shocked his supporters.

In 2014, a panel of New Jersey judges ordered the parole board to “expeditiously set conditions” for Acoli’s release. The judges noted his good behavior since 1996 and said the board did not take into consideration a psychologist’s 2010 testimony that Acoli “expressed regret and remorse about his involvement” in the state trooper’s death. According to the expert, Acoli had a “low to moderate risk” of recidivism.

A higher court in February 2016 overturned Acoli’s parole order and that decision was lauded by the New Jersey Sate Police as “a victory for law enforcement.” The higher court’s reversal triggered a new parole board hearing in June and that led to the denial. Acoli wrote a letter to his supporters and stated that the June hearing focused “primarily about the events on the turnpike and almost nothing about my many positive accomplishments.” He said the parole board members asked him, “Aren’t you angry that they broke Assata out of prison instead of you?” He responded that “I don’t or wouldn’t wish prison on anyone.”

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Sundiata Acoli has spent almost 40 years at “supermax” federal prisons in Marion, Illinois and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He is currently imprisoned at a federal facility in Cumberland, Maryland. Acoli spends 23 hours a day in his cell under high security.

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