Feb. 5, New Jersey’s Supreme Court granted the state attorney general’s request that “political prisoner of war” Sundiata Acoli, not be released until they decide whether to hear arguments in the case against his parole.

Sept. 29, 2014, a three-judge state appeals panel ordered Acoli be released from prison after it concluded that the 2011 denial of his release was “arbitrary and capricious.” This decision infuriated many in the law-enforcement community.

The New Jersey Parole Board contends the appellate panel bypassed laws governing the release of inmates when it ordered his parole and asked the appellate division to reconsider its decision to release Acoli.

The attorney general appealed to the Supreme Court last October to reverse that decision, arguing that the panel erred by not sending Acoli’s case back to the parole board for another hearing, as required by the state Legislature.

“The Legislature has determined that he may only be released by a majority vote of the full state parole board,” the attorney general’s office wrote in its brief.

In papers filed with the court, the parole board said that in reaching its conclusion, the appellate panel should have sent the matter back to the full 15-member parole board for a rehearing, rather than order Acoli’s release.

But the appeals panel wrote that the parole board ignored a report by a prison psychologist that said Acoli “expressed regret and remorse” about the killing and had changed over the years, as well as the fact that he has not received a disciplinary citation since 1996.

“The evidence before the board failed to demonstrate that Acoli was substantially likely to commit another offense if released,” the panel wrote.

The court papers said that as prescribed by law for murder cases, a two-member panel of the parole board heard Acoli’s request for parole in 2010. The panel can either deny or recommend parole. If recommended, the matter goes before the full parole board for a hearing, when members of the victim’s family are permitted to speak.

“By bypassing a full board hearing on Acoli’s parole, this court assumed the board’s role without the benefit of its questions of the inmate or its in-depth review of the record and ignored the Legislature’s directive that the full board consider the case,” the parole board wrote in its briefs.

Just after midnight May 2, 1973, New Jersey State Trooper James Harper pulled over a car containing Black Panther activists Acoli, Assata Shakur and Zayd Shakur on the Turnpike in East Brunswick, allegedly for a broken taillight. Trooper Werner Foerster arrived as backup and allegedly discovered a gun on Acoli.

Prosecutors maintain that Foerster was shot with his own gun while struggling with Acoli, who contends he blacked out after being shot and remembers nothing about the confrontation.

Acoli was sentenced to life in prison plus 24 to 30 years in 1974. He was denied parole in 1993 and 2004.

The appellate panel wrote last fall it was “completely appalled by Acoli’s senseless crimes … but Acoli has paid the penalty under the laws of this state for his crimes.”

No date has been set for Acoli’s release, but Appellate Division Judges Carmen Messano, Margaret Hayden and Garry Rothstadt ordered the board to “expeditiously” arrange his release with “appropriate conditions.”

Lee Moore, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, said the office expects Acoli, now 77, to remain in federal prison until the outcome of the case, and that his agency has not yet heard whether the appellate division will agree to reconsider its order and hold off on enforcing Acoli’s release.