(en) Ex-Black Panther free at last

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Tue, 10 Jun 1997 15:02:06 +0000

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 15:47:43 -0400 From: "Los Angeles Alternative Media Network" <laamn@labridge.com> Reply-to: pieman@queenbee.net Subject: Ex-Black Panther free at last

By LINDA DEUTSCH .c The Associated Press

SANTA ANA, Calif. (June 10) - Former Black Panther Geronimo Pratt was ordered released on $25,000 bail today after serving 27 years behind bars for a slaying he said he didn't commit.

Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey agreed to let Pratt go free on bail two weeks after he ordered a new trial. Pratt maintained he was railroaded for the killing as FBI and police sought to undermine the Black Panther movement in California.

Prosecutors are seeking to get the conviction reinstated and, if they fail in that, could still try Pratt again.

The packed courtroom erupted in shouts of joy and applause from fellow activists as Dickey announced his decision. Shouts could also be heard outside the courthouse and inside the hallways as word spread that Pratt would soon be free.

Pratt's lawyer had suggested bail of $25,000, saying it was symbolic of the quarter century he had spent in prison since his conviction in 1972.

He was found guilty in 1972 of the murder of Caroline Olsen, a schoolteacher who was slain on a Santa Monica tennis court in 1968.

The conviction was overturned May 29 in light of new evidence that the chief witness against him was a police and FBI informant who lied under oath.

''Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your fair and courageous ruling,'' Pratt said in a husky voice as he stood before the judge today in a yellow prison jumpsuit.

''I assure you that if there are any further proceedings, I'll be the first one here. ... You can be assured I will adhere to any rule the court orders me to follow and that's my word as a Vietnam vet and a man.''

His lawyers, Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Stuart Hanlon, spoke of their close relationship with Pratt over the years and their desire to see him free.

''I want to reiterate he is a man of peace,'' Hanlon said. ''He believes in using this legal system to give him his freedom. He is not a danger to society.''

The judge ordered prosecutors to either give Pratt a new trial or drop the case. District Attorney Gil Garcetti said he would appeal the decision because he saw no new evidence of Pratt's innocence.

Pratt maintained he was at Black Panther Party headquarters in Northern California at the time of the killing. He was arrested two years later after the informant told authorities Pratt had confessed.

Pratt was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He has been turned down for parole 16 times.

In the courtroom were many veterans of the activist 1960s, including David Hilliard, a founder of the Black Panther Party, who told reporters he believed Pratt was targeted by the FBI for political prosecution.

''This is black America's victory,'' Hilliard said. ''This is a good day for America - hopefully a new day.''

He said the Panthers were misunderstood in their time: ''We were not terrorists, not bombers, not a racist organization. We were working for the youth of the country.''

Eldridge Cleaver, once the Panthers' minister of information and author of ''Soul on Ice,'' called the decision to release Pratt ''a great testimony both to the ultimate working of our judicial system and also to his endurance.''

AP-NY-06-10-97 1447EDT

Copyright 1997 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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