After a widely-publicized nine-week trial, on March 25, 1977 in Middlesex County, New Jersey, Shakur was convicted as an accomplice in the murders of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and Zayd Shakur and possession of weapons, as well as of assault and attempted murder of Trooper Harper.
Although the prosecution could not prove that Shakur fired the shots that killed either Trooper Foerester or Zayd Shakur, being an accomplice to murder carries an equivalent life sentence under New Jersey law.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Theodore Appleby sentenced her to 26 to 33 years in state prison for assault and weapons charges which was to be served consecutively with her mandatory life sentence for being an accomplice to the murders.
All of the jury members were white and five had personal ties to State Troopers (one girlfriend, two nephews, and two friends). One prospective juror was dismissed for reading Target Blue , a book by Robert Daley, a former New York City Deputy Police Commander, which dealt in part with Shakur and had been left in the jury assembly room.
Shakur's attorneys sought a new trial on the grounds that one jury member, John McGovern, had violated the jury's sequestration order. McGovern later sued Kunstler for defamation after Judge Appleby rejected Kunstler's claim that he had violated the order. In September 1977, New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne vetoed a bill to give the Morris County sheriff $7,491 for overtime expenses incurred in guarding Shakur's jury.
The judge did not allow evidence of alleged COINTELPRO involvement to be admitted during her trial. Shakur's defense attorneys had attempted to subpoena FBI Director Clarence Kelley, Senator Frank Church and other Federal and New York law enforcement officials to testify about the Counter Intelligence Program, which they alleged was designed to harass and disrupt black activist organizations.
Shakur's attorney's had also successfully asked a 10-judge panel of the Federal Philadelphia Court of Appeals to order that sessions for her murder trial not be held on Fridays because of Black Muslim Sabbath, although Appeals Court rejected her plea to move the murder trial to a federal court.
After the Turnpike shootings, Shakur was imprisoned in New Jersey State Reception and Correction center in Yardville, Middlesex County, New Jersey and later moved to Rikers Island Correctional Institution for Women in New York City where she was kept in solitary confinement.
After a bomb threat was made against Judge Appleby, Sheriff Joseph DeMarino lied to the press about the exact date of her transfer to Clinton State Correctional Institute for security reasons. She was also transferred from Clinton Prison for Women to the Yardville Youth Correction and Reception Center in New Jersey, where she was the only female inmate, for "security reasons."
On May 6, 1977, Trenton Federal District Court Judge Clarkson Fisher denied Shakur's request for a transfer from the all-male facility to Clinton Correctional Facility. Shakur's only daughter, Kakuya Shakur, was conceived during her trial and born in September 1974 at the fortified psychiatric ward at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.
On April 8, 1978, Shakur was transferred to Alderson Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia where she met Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebrón and Mary Alice, a Catholic nun, who introduced Shakur to the concept of liberation theology. At Alderson, Shakur was housed in the Maximum Security Unit, which also contained several members of the Aryan Sisterhood as well as Sandra Good and Lynette Fromme, followers of Charles Manson.
On March 31, 1978, after the Maximum Security Unit at Alderson was closed, Shakur was transferred to the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey.
A 1979 special UN investigation into human rights abuses of political prisoners cited Shakur as "one of the worst cases" of such abuses and including her in a "a class of victims of FBI misconduct through the COINTELPRO strategy and other forms of illegal government conduct who as political activists have been selectively targeted for provocation, false arrests, entrapment, fabrication of evidence, and spurious criminal prosecutions."
Escape and political asylum in Cuba
On November 2, 1979 she escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey, when three members of the Black Liberation Army visiting her drew concealed .45-caliber pistols, seized two guards as hostages and commandeered a prison van. No one, including the guards, was injured during the prison break.
Charged with assisting in her escape was her brother, Mutulu Shakur, and Silvia Baraldini; Ronald Boyd Hill was also held on charges related to the escape. In part for his role in the event, Mutulu was named on July 23, 1982 as the 380th addition to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, where he remained for the next four years until his capture in 1986.
State correction officials disclosed in November 1979 that they had not run identity checks on Shakur's visitors and that the three men and one woman who assisted in her escape had presented false identification to enter the prison's visitor room, before which they were not searched.
After her escape, Assata lived as a fugitive for the next several years. The F.B.I. circulated "wanted" posters throughout the New York-New Jersey area; her supporters hung "Assata Shakur is welcome here" posters in response.
In July 1980, FBI director William Webster said that the search for Shakur had been frustrated by residents' refusal to cooperate, and a New York Times editorial opined that the department's commitment to "enforce the law with vigor – but also with sensitivity for civil rights and civil liberties" had been "clouded" by an "apparently crude sweep" through a Harlem building in search of Shakur.
In particular, one pre-dawn April 20, 1980 raid on 92 Morningside Avenue, during which FBI agents armed with shotguns and machine guns broke down doors, and rummaged through the building for several hours while preventing residents from leaving, was perceived by residents as having "racist overtones."
In October 1980, New Jersey and New York City Police denied published reports that they had declined to raid a Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn building where Shakur was suspected to be hiding for fear of provoking a racial incident.
She fled to Cuba in 1984 where she was granted political asylum, saying she had never received a fair trial. In 1985 she was reunited with her daughter, Kakuya, who had previously been raised by Shakur's mother in New York.
She published Assata: An Autobiography, which was written in Cuba, in 1987. Her autobiography has been cited in relation to critical legal studies and critical race theory.
In 1997, Carl Williams, the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police wrote a letter to the Pope John Paul II asking him to raise the issue of Shakur's extradition during his talks with President Fidel Castro.
During the pope's visit to Cuba in 1998, Shakur agreed to an interview with NBC journalist Ralph Penza. Shakur later published an extensive criticism of the NBC segment, which interpliced footage of Trooper Foerster's grieving widow with an FBI photo connected to a bank robbery of which Shakur had been acquitted.
On March 10, 1998—the 85th anniversary of the death of Harriet Tubman—New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman asked Attorney General Janet Reno to do whatever it takes to return Shakur from Cuba. Later in 1998, U.S. media widely reported claims that the United States State Department had offered to lift the Cuban embargo in exchange for the return of ninety U.S. political exiles, including Shakur.
In 1998, the United States Congress passed a resolution asking Cuba for her "return"; House Concurrent Resolution 254 passed 371-0 in the House and by unanimous consent in the Senate.
Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus later explained that they were against her extradition, but mistakenly voted for the bill which was placed on the accelerated suspension calendar, generally reserved for non-controversial legislation.
Representative Maxine Waters of California, who voted for the resolution, later explained her opposition, calling COINTELPRO "illegal, clandestine political persecution."
On May 2, 2005, the thirty-second anniversary of the Turnpike shootings, the F.B.I. classified Assata Shakur as a "domestic terrorist", increasing the reward for assistance in her capture to $1 million, the largest reward placed on an individual in the history of New Jersey.
New Jersey State Police superintendent Rick Fuentes said "she is now 120 pounds of money." New York City Councilman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther, has called for the bounty to be rescinded. The New Jersey State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation each still have an agent officially assigned to her case.
Text Attribution: Wikipedia