(en) Geronimo Pratt Is Free!

Arm The Spirit (ats@locust.etext.org)
Wed, 11 Jun 1997 08:07:22 -0400 (EDT)

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Former Black Panther Freed On Bail In 1968 Murder Case

Associated Press, 06/10/97

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - Amid cries of "Free at last!" former Black Panther Geronimo Pratt was released on bail Tuesday after 27 years behind bars on murder charges he says were trumped up by the FBI during the turbulent '60s. The scene outside the Orange County Jail erupted less than two hours after Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey, who last month overturned Pratt's conviction, ordered him freed to await a decision on whether he will be retried. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your fair and courageous ruling," the 49-year-old Pratt said in a husky voice as he stood before Dickey. The courtroom was filled with many veterans of the activist 1960s who had come to see the judge deal with one of the last pieces of unfinished business from the black power movement. Prosecutors are seeking to get the conviction reinstated. Failing that, they could retry Pratt, though they haven't said whether they will. Pratt was arrested in 1970 and charged with murdering schoolteacher Caroline Olsen in a robbery on a Santa Monica tennis court in 1968. He was convicted in 1972 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Pratt insisted he was in Oakland at the time of the killing. He maintains he was railroaded for the killing as FBI and police sought to undermine the Black Panther movement in California. His defenders have long contended he was a victim of a campaign of political persecution by J. Edgar Hoover. Dickey overturned the conviction last month, ruling that prosecutors failed to tell the defense that the key witness against Pratt was an infiltrator and paid informant for the FBI and police. The witness had claimed Pratt confessed. "It's madness in there," Pratt said after walking out of jail on $25,000 bail. "You have political prisoners on top of political prisoners. I'm only one of a great many that should be exposed, should be addressed." Someone in the crowd stood up and screamed: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, he's free at last!" Declaring himself a "mama's boy", Pratt said he wanted to go see his 94-year-old mother and was rushed off in a van. He was to spend the night in Southern California, according to his San Francisco attorney's office. Amid a chaotic scene outside court, one of Pratt's attorneys, Johnnie Cochran Jr., called it "a great day for justice in America". "I once said I couldn't retire until he was free. Today I can retire, but I'm not," Cochran said. Pratt's other lawyer, Stuart Hanlon, said Pratt's release still doesn't justify the American legal system. "The justice system that kept him in jail for 25 years can't be justified by one judge's ruling. It's been a long struggle," he said. Eldridge Cleaver, the 61-year-old former minister of information for the Black Panthers, said Pratt's release and reversal of his conviction would help to solidify the party's reputation in history. "We will be judged as having a made a positive contribution," he said. "We stood up for freedom and justice." Of Pratt, Cleaver said: "His legacy is one of endurance, of always saying no to the attempts to subvert him."

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