Acoli v. NJ State Parole Bd.

The New Jersey Supreme Court paroled a cop-killer who was sentenced to life plus twenty-four years. In 1974, a jury found Acoli guilty of a state trooper.s murder and the shooting of another. He received an aggregate prison sentence of life plus twenty-four to thirty years. Under the law that controlled his crimes in 1973, Acoli first became eligible for parole in 1993. The Parole Board has denied parole every time he became eligible for release. In June 2016, the full Board conducted a hearing, calling only one witness — Acoli. During approximately six hours of questioning, the then-seventy-nine-year-old Acoli spoke about his failing health, including his cardiac disease, difficulty hearing, and memory loss. Most of the questioning probed Acoli’s recall of the 1973 shooting. The Board repeatedly asked Acoli who shot a third trooper, and, every time, Acoli responded that he did not know. At the end of the hearing, Acoli explained, “I deeply regret the actions that transpired, those were turbulent and fearful times.” He stated that, if paroled, he would live with his daughter and grandchildren. After the hearing concluded, the Board denied parole. A divided three-judge panel of the Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and held that under the (now-repealed) law at the time of Acoli’s parole hearing, he was presumptively entitled to release. To overcome that presumption, the Parole Board had the burden of demonstrating that there was a substantial likelihood that, if released, Acoli would commit another crime. The Parole Board did not meet that burden. The record does not contain substantial credible evidence to support the Parole Board’s decision to deny parole.

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