Thursday, June 9, 2011

Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, 1947-2011: Revolutionary and Black Panther Leader Who was Framed and Falsely Imprisoned for 27 years by FBI and LAPD

Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt as Minister of Defense of the Los Angeles Branch of the Black Panther Party at age 23 in 1970






Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt cheers after being released from prison, in Santa Ana, Calif., on June 10, 1997.
Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, left, with attorney Johnnie Cochran upon release from prison on a false conviction after 27 years in 1997 (Nick Ut / Associated Press)

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/04/us/04pratt.html?ref=freedomandhumanrights

Elmer G. Pratt, Jailed Panther Leader, Dies at 63
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
June 3, 2011

New York Times
Haywood Galbreath/Associated Press
Elmer Pratt, known as Geronimo, in court in California in 1997.

Elmer G. Pratt, a Black Panther leader who was imprisoned for 27 years for murder and whose marathon fight to prove he had been framed attracted support from civil rights groups and led to the overturning of his conviction, died on Thursday in a village in Tanzania, where he was living. He was 63. Mr. Pratt, who was widely known by his Panther name, Geronimo ji-Jaga, had high blood pressure and other ailments, his longtime lawyer, Stuart Hanlon, said. Mr. Hanlon said he did not know the exact cause of death. To his supporters — among them Amnesty International, the N.A.A.C.P. and the American Civil Liberties Union — Mr. Pratt came to symbolize a politically motivated attack on the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and other radical groups. But from the start, the grisly facts of the murder of a 27-year-old teacher dominated discussions of the case, including those of the parole board that denied parole to Mr. Pratt 16 times. The teacher, Caroline Olsen, and her husband, Kenneth, were accosted by two young black men with guns on Dec. 18, 1968, in Santa Monica, Calif. They took $18 from Mrs. Olsen’s purse. “This ain’t enough,” one said, according to the police, and ordered the couple to “lie down and pray.” Shots were fired, hitting Mr. Olsen five times and his wife twice. Mrs. Olsen died 11 days later. Mr. Pratt was arrested. The case against Mr. Pratt included evidence that both the pistol used as the murder weapon and the red-and-white GTO convertible used as the getaway car belonged to him. An informant wrote an eight-page letter asserting Mr. Pratt had bragged to him that he committed the murder. Fellow Panthers did not support Mr. Pratt’s alibi that he was in Oakland, more than 300 miles away, at the time of the killing. A witness identified Mr. Pratt as one of two men who tried to rob a store shortly before the murder. And Mr. Olsen identified Mr. Pratt as the assailant. Mr. Pratt was convicted of first-degree murder on July 28, 1972, and sentenced to life imprisonment a month later. Information gradually surfaced that the jury had not known about when it reached its verdict. Mr. Olsen had identified someone else before he identified Mr. Pratt. Documents showed that the informant who said that Mr. Pratt had confessed to him had lied about himself. Wiretap evidence that might have supported Mr. Pratt’s alibi mysteriously vanished from F.B.I. files. A public debate erupted over the extent to which Mr. Pratt and the Black Panthers had been singled out by law enforcement agencies. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the F.B.I., called the Panthers a threat to national security, and an F.B.I. report spoke of “neutralizing” Mr. Pratt. Others saw the Panthers and their leaders as a voice of black empowerment and as a service group that provided free breakfasts to the poor. In an interview with The New York Times in 1997, John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said, “The Geronimo Pratt case is one of the most compelling and painful examples of a political assassination on an African-American activist.” As Mr. Pratt languished in solitary confinement, his supporters shed light on his case by hanging a banner from the Statue of Liberty. His lawyers, led by Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. — famed for defending O.J. Simpson — assembled ammunition for an appeal. In 1997 a California Superior Court judge, Everett W. Dickey, vacated Mr. Pratt’s conviction on the grounds that the government informant, Julius C. Butler, had lied about being one. Moreover, it was learned that the Los Angeles Police Department, the F.B.I. and prosecutors had not shared with the defense their knowledge that Mr. Butler was an informant. A juror, Jeanne Rook Hamilton, told The Times: “If we had known about Butler’s background, there’s no way Pratt would have been convicted.” California lost its appeal to nullify Judge Dickey’s decision in 1999, and the Los Angeles County district attorney ruled out a new trial. In 2000, Mr. Pratt received $4.5 million from the federal and local governments as settlement in a wrongful-imprisonment suit. Mr. Pratt said he would have preferred to press the matter in a trial so he could air the government’s “evil scheme,” but decided to accept his lawyers’ advice and take the settlement. Elmer Gerard Pratt, the name he rejected at 20 as that of a “dirty dog” slave master, was born on Sept. 13, 1947, in Morgan City, La. His father was in the scrap-metal business. Elmer liked to shoot rabbits and sell them. He was a high school quarterback, then joined the Army, serving two tours in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts and emerging a sergeant. Mr. Pratt attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied political science and joined the Panthers. He rose to lead the Los Angeles branch. He moved to Tanzania because he had friends there and had always wanted to live in Africa. He is survived by a daughter, three sons, two sisters and two brothers. He was godfather to the slain rapper Tupac Shakur.


Olsen, Jack. Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (2000) ISBN 0-38549-367-3

From Publishers Weekly

One part Kafka and one part Orwell, the story of Geronimo Pratt's conviction and imprisonment, for a murder committed while he was 350 miles away from the crime scene and under FBI surveillance, is a textbook case of abuse of the American criminal justice system for political ends. Raised in small-town Louisiana, Pratt served two distinguished stints in Vietnam (earning a Purple Heart) before becoming a leader of the Black Panthers in Los Angeles. Visible and articulate, he was targeted by the FBI's counterintelligence program and soon was set up and convicted for a highly publicized 1968 Santa Monica murder. At trial, where he was represented by the now-famous Johnnie Cochran, evidence was suppressed (and later destroyed), witnesses were intimidated and perjury was suborned. His case became an international cause celebre and the details of Pratt's struggles have not, until now, been readily available. Olsen tells Pratt's story with a compelling narrative grace. Drawing from a mountain of court records and other documentary evidence as well as on the memories of Pratt, his family and his lawyers (both Cochran and his young colleague, Stuart Hanlon) Olsen takes us from the early days of Pratt's imprisonment, through his appeals, and up to the day when his conviction was finally overturned and he went free. (By then, he'd served more than 26 years in prison, several of them in solitary confinement.) Rigorously researched, skillfully organized and passionately written, the book lays bare long-obscured facts about Pratt's case, as well as ugly truths about the conditions of prison and a grave miscarriage of justice. (Sept.)

Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Olsen is a journalist and prolific author who writes in the segmented style of a playwright as he chronicles the life and times of Geronimo Pratt, a former Black Panther Party leader who was spurned by his peers and framed by the authorities for a murder he did not commit. Pratt served 27 years behind bars until a persistent and determined coalition of clergy and lawyers (including the famed Johnnie L. Cochran) was able to dig up enough fresh evidence to spring him. The book focuses on aspects of the Pratt case that are common to the imprisoned innocent: the contamination of secondhand confession testimony and inflated eyewitness identifications, in this case extracted by bad cops and overzealous prosecutors. Added to this mix is the notorious status of the Black Panthers in 1968. As Olsen jumps from scene to scene, the egregious excesses and misinformation campaigns of the FBI, the LAPD, and the district attorney and the federal government's inter-agency effort to discredit the Black Panther movement become manifest. The book is a classic expos of how an innocent's rights can be swept under the rug of politics and power. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DPhilip Y. Blue, NY State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., New York
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Hardcover: 384 pages Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (September 19, 2000) Language: English ISBN-10: 0385493673 ISBN-13: 978-0385493673

LAST MAN STANDING: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt

From classics like Les Miserables and The Trial to contemporary works like Hurricane and In the Name of the Father, accounts of institutional injustices and systematic abuses of power ignite the most impassioned of responses. The case of Geronimo Pratt, imprisoned for twenty-seven years for a murder he didn’t commit, is one of history’s most flagrant examples. When his plight first became known through a 60 Minutes segment in the late 1980s, Pratt was tagged "Last Man Standing" –- a reference to his status as the only internationally known political prisoner still being held after the release of Nelson Mandela. While the public learned of Pratt’s ordeal piecemeal, his dramatic life story and the injustices and abuses he suffered are now revealed in a stunning new book.

LAST MAN STANDING: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt (Doubleday, Publication date: 9/19/00; $26.95) recounts Pratt’s shocking story as well as the relentless efforts of a team of lawyers who worked for nearly three decades to set him free. A former bureau chief for Time, Jack Olsen is the author of thirty-one books and holder of citations from Columbia and Indiana Universities as well as the Edgar and National Headliners awards. With journalistic skills developed in a career spanning fifty years, Olsen transforms this complex case into an utterly gripping narrative, complete with vivid character portraits, intense courtroom battles, acts of bravado and buffoonery, and the epic breadth and scope of the best novels. Olsen leads readers through Pratt’s background, showing how and why this soft-spoken Louisianian suddenly found himself in the inner sanctums of the Black Panther Party, an odd assemblage of idealistic African Americans and loose cannons. Pratt had grown up in the bayou country southwest of New Orleans, surrounded by a loving family that valued hard work, self-reliance and education. His father eked out a living by salvaging scraps from the town dump, but Pratt and his six siblings never realized they were poor. In his senior year at Morgan City Colored High, the star quarterback came under the influence of a council of black "elders" who enlightened him about racial injustice in an era when civil rights workers were being murdered, churches fire-bombed and children burned to death. After two tours of duty in Vietnam and fifty-five combat jumps (Soldiers Medal, Air Medal, Purple Heart), Pratt enrolled in a "high potential" program at UCLA. In his earliest months on campus, wholesale acts of police brutality and racial violence inspired him to join the Panthers. As he became more active, he found himself subjected to a mysterious campaign of harassment. Years would pass before it finally came to light that he’d been targeted by J. Edgar Hoover and a systematic FBI counter-intelligence program whose admitted goal was to undermine black solidarity and "neutralize" Panther leaders. Among other victims, two of Pratt’s closest friends were killed in a gunfight triggered by federal agents provocateurs. The former Army sergeant and his Panther colleagues soon grew accustomed to being harassed and even held incommunicado for supposed offenses including "too many Negroes in one car" and "driving while black," but Pratt was shocked to find himself under arrest for the brutal killing of a schoolteacher on a Santa Monica tennis court. Atty. Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. assured his client that the charges would be dropped, given that Pratt had been 350 miles away on the night of the murder and could prove it, but the 22-year-old defendant suspected a fix. His instincts proved correct. As a perplexed young Cochran struggled to prove Pratt’s innocence in open court, prosecution witnesses trooped to the stand to shade the truth or lie. Exculpatory evidence disappeared in police stations and the L.A. District Attorney’s office. FBI "moles" infiltrated defense sessions and monitored Cochran’s phone calls. One improbable ruling after another descended from the Superior Court bench. In some of the most riveting chapters ever written about judicial corruption, Olsen takes readers inside the trial, describing brazen misidentifications by key eyewitnesses, rigged line-ups, police indifference to finding the real killers, hints of prosecutorial misconduct and subornation, blatant judicial error, and the shattering testimony of a star witness whom Pratt had ousted from the Black Panthers for brutality and who gained his revenge as an FBI informant and paid perjurer (a fact that was carefully concealed from the jury). After ten days of deliberation and a guilty verdict that some of the jurors would later recant, Pratt was thrown into solitary confinement, his only toilet facilities a hole in the floor that routinely backed up. Nursing old shrapnel injuries, permitted only three hours of daylight per week, he was routinely beaten by guards, drugged, shunted from one dungeon to another, set up for midnight assassination by other inmates, and falsely accused of a laundry list of prison crimes from attempted murder of guards to inciting riots to planning mass escapes to masterminding the kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst. The ex-paratrooper maintained his sanity with self-help techniques like meditation, chanting, astral projection and yoga, interspersed with intense study of criminal law and the justice system. He kept his finely honed muscles in shape with a rigorous set of exercises that he taught to fellow prisoners and called "cellisthenics." Body and spirit intact, he used his innate leadership skills to institute social programs and reforms that remain in place today. While Geronimo Pratt is the central figure of the book, the author also follows his ragtag legal team, working pro bono year in year out, passing the hat to pay legal fees, filing writ after writ in a cause that never seemed better than hopeless. As a GQ headline proclaimed during the O.J. Simpson trial, Pratt’s was "The Other Case That Obsesses Johnnie Cochran." Readers of Last Man Standing may view the young Cochran as a work in progress. As he explained later, "The Pratt case taught me and a lot of other lawyers never to accept the official version of an event, never accept a lab report, a forensic finding, never take so-called expert testimony at face value.... As a result I see things I never saw before, ask questions I never asked before." The ordeal of Geronimo Pratt, Cochran admits, made him a better lawyer. A few years after the original conviction in 1972, Cochran had been joined by Stuart Hanlon, a radical law student and veteran of the student riots at Columbia University. Although his big-city Jewish-Irish background seemed worlds away from Pratt’s relaxed early years on the bayou, the green young Hanlon soon found himself drawn to his client by similar political and philosophical beliefs. Working out of a claustrophobic basement room in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District, Hanlon and his band of volunteers took eight years to convince a U.S. District Court judge to order prison officials to remove Pratt from the hole and place him in San Quentin’s general population, where he was hailed as a hero. Then came the larger task of winning his total freedom against a California attorney general’s office that seemed hell-bent on keeping the "dangerous revolutionary" caged for life. One numbing setback followed another. A federal magistrate consulted with the FBI, then bottled up the case for five years before ruling against Pratt. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office promised a full review but failed to produce a finding in three years. Parole boards routinely voted Pratt down on the grounds that he was likely to kill again or foment a bloody revolution. Judges ducked the politically charged case, and an appellate court justice walked off the bench without explanation. A struggling Stuart Hanlon, reeling from personal tragedies of his own, routinely risked being jailed for contempt, and newly appointed assistant D.A. Johnnie Cochran almost lost his prestigious job by insisting to his boss that Pratt had been railroaded by the selfsame D.A’s office. As Pratt began his third decade in the California gulag, word of his plight began to leak via media sources like CBS Evening News, Dateline, the Los Angeles Times and California Lawyer. Supporters and relatives circulated petitions. Ghetto churches began weekly prayer sessions. A banner flew from the Statue of Liberty’s torch: LIBERTY WAS FRAMED – FREE GERONIMO PRATT. A donor contributed $60,000 for a billboard that appeared above a McDonald’s restaurant in Hollywood: AN INNOCENT MAN IN PRISON FOR 26 YEARS. GERONIMO PRATT. LOS ANGELES, HOW LONG MUST HE WAIT FOR JUSTICE? Amnesty International, the NAACP, ACLU, the Congressional Black Congress and other organizations joined celebrities like Marlon Brando, novelist Alice Walker and U.S. Congressmen Don Edwards and "Pete" McCloskey in speaking out on Pratt’s behalf. Preachers, rabbis, labor leaders and lawyers filed briefs as "friends of the court." From South Africa, Nelson Mandela called for the release of his fellow political prisoner. The California justice system held its ground. By Pratt’s twenty-third year inside, cadres of volunteer legal workers had come and gone, worn down by sheer frustration. Just when Cochran and Hanlon thought they’d exhausted their final options, another volunteer offered his help. Reverend James McCloskey of Princeton, N.J., had labored for fifteen years on behalf of those he called "the imprisoned innocent," and his Centurion Ministries had freed fourteen doomed men and one woman. For Pratt, McCloskey played his accustomed role of one-man detective agency, spending a year slogging through the killing fields of the Los Angeles and Oakland ghettos and running up 150,000 miles of travel in pursuit of new leads. In a spectacular 1997 show trial in ultra-conservative Orange County, Cochran and Hanlon combined McCloskey’s discoveries and a boldly innovative courtroom strategy to win reversal of Pratt’s original conviction. The Last Man Standing, now fifty, tapped his chest where he’d once pounded paratrooper wings into his bare skin and promised to obey future orders of the court. "That’s my word," he promised the judge, "as a Vietnam vet and a man." On the courthouse lawn he touched a tree and told his old friend Hanlon that it made him weak in the knees. Then he went home to the bayou.


http://www.democracynow.org/2011/6/6/former_black_panther_leader_and_political




http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/04/opinion/la-oe-0604-rutten-201106


'Geronimo' Pratt and Johnnie Cochran

by Tim Rutten
June 4, 2011
Los Angeles Times



Op-Ed

The story of 'Geronimo' Pratt, the Black Panther, and Johnnie Cochran, the defense lawyer, has deep threads in U.S., L.A. and human history.

June 04, 2011
by Tim Rutten


Los Angeles is a city that lives in the present and looks to the future. Time passes here in a blur, and there's usually little appetite for weaving together the strands of memory into the stories we call history — and few hungry to hear them when we do.

Even so, Thursday's unexpected death of the onetime Black Panther, Elmer G. "Geronimo" Pratt, is one of those events worth pausing to consider because he was half of one of our city's most fascinating human stories: the deep and consequential friendship he formed with the late Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.

Pratt was just 63 when he died in the rural Tanzanian village where he spent a great deal of his time in recent years. He was born in Morgan City, La., where his Catholic parents ran a small scrap-metal business. The Vietnam War was raging when he graduated from high school. Pratt enlisted in the Army, was assigned to the 82nd Airborne and served two combat tours in Southeast Asia. He was awarded a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. In 1968, he enrolled in UCLA, where he was recruited into the Black Panthers.

It's hard now — particularly with an African American in the White House — to recapture the feeling of Los Angeles in those days; not only the degree of antagonistic racial division but also the violence that routinely flared in that divide. Many of the Panthers were dangerous thugs, but J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and a racist, red-baiting Los Angeles Police Department were obsessed with the organization and riddled its ranks with informers and provocateurs.

In a way, the two sides were the living manifestation of the other's worst paranoid nightmares of rebellion and repression.

Not long after Pratt joined the Panthers, the city was rocked by a particularly brutal crime. Caroline Olsen, a white schoolteacher, and her husband were accosted one evening on a public tennis court in Santa Monica, robbed of $18 and shot. Caroline Olsen died of her wounds, and Pratt subsequently was arrested and charged after being fingered by a fellow Panther, who later was exposed as a law enforcement informant.

Cochran was engaged to defend Pratt. The two men were fascinated with each other, as I would discover when — some years later — I collaborated with Johnnie on his autobiography. Both were from rural Louisiana and both were devoted to the cause of equal rights, but they understood that they'd chosen diametrically opposed paths. As Cochran told me, "I remained rooted in my Baptist church, and Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King — apostles of law and nonviolence — were my heroes. Geronimo had left the Catholic Church and chosen Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver. We both thought the other was living in a dream world."

Pratt's trial was a sham, marked by the prosecution's deceitful withholding of exculpatory evidence and the presence of a government spy, still unidentified, inside the defense team. He was convicted and spent the next 27 years — eight of them in solitary confinement — in prison. Cochran never accepted the defeat, though he would say it "radicalized" him and opened his eyes to the possibilities of government misconduct. He remained devoted to Pratt's cause until, in 1997, an Orange County Superior Court judge overturned the conviction because the prosecution had concealed evidence regarding its informant. Pratt at last was freed.

While in prison, Geronimo embraced nonviolence and became a peacemaker among other inmates, one on whom the prison guards and authorities relied. He later told me that he'd gotten through the eight years of solitary confinement by replaying in his head the blues he'd heard as a boy like a mantra — and by thinking about his conversations with and letters from Cochran, all of which made an unswerving case against injustice, but only through nonviolence.

Johnnie ultimately helped win Geronimo more than $4 million in compensation from the city of Los Angeles and the federal government. He used most of it to support programs for youths in Morgan City and development projects in East Africa founded by other ex-Panthers. When Johnnie died, Geronimo praised him as "a soldier fully dedicated to making sure the rights of the oppressed are defended."

They were, in the end, two remarkable men from Louisiana, who came to this city and changed it as they remade themselves according to what they most admired in each other. It is, somehow a very Los Angeles story.

timothy.rutten@latimes.com
Copyright 2011 Los Angeles Times



http://www.npr.org/2011/06/03/136924082/geronimo-pratt-former-black-panther-leader-dies

'Geronimo' Pratt, Former Black Panther Leader, Dies
June 3, 2011
by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


Former Black Panther Party leader Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, whose murder conviction was overturned after he spent 27 years in prison for a crime he maintained he did not commit, died early Friday from a medical ailment, an associate said. He was 63.

Pratt died just after midnight at his home in Imbaseni village, 15 miles from Arusha, Tanzania, where he had lived for at least half a decade, friend and former Black Panther member Pete O'Neal said. O'Neal said he suspects Pratt died of a heart attack or stroke. Pratt was taken to the hospital on Tuesday and Wednesday with high blood pressure.

Pratt was convicted in 1972 of being one of two men who robbed and fatally shot schoolteacher Caroline Olsen on a Santa Monica, Calif., tennis court in December 1968. No one else was arrested.

Pratt claimed he was in Oakland for Black Panther Party meetings the day of the murder, and that FBI agents and police hid and possibly destroyed wiretap evidence that would prove it.

The Black Panther Party was an African-American revolutionary leftist organization, active in the United States from 1966 until 1982. It achieved notoriety through its involvement in the Black Power movement and in U.S. politics of the 1960s and 70s.

Lawyer Stuart Hanlon, who helped Pratt win his freedom, said Pratt refused to carry any resentment about his treatment by the legal system.

"He had no anger, he had no bitterness, he had no desire for revenge. He wanted to resume his life and have children," Hanlon told The Associated Press from San Francisco on Thursday. "He would never look back."

Pratt lived a peaceful life in Tanzania that he loved, O'Neal said. Pratt returned from a visit to the U.S. about 10 days ago and remarked that he appreciated the pace of his life in Africa.

"He's my hero. He was and will continue to be," O'Neal said. "Geronimo was a symbol of steadfast resistance against all that is considered wrong and improper. His whole life was dedicated to standing in opposition to oppression and exploitation. ... He gave all that he had and his life, I believe, struggling, trying to help people lift themselves up."

Pratt worked with the United African Alliance Community Center in Arusha for the last nine years that he lived in the Tanzanian community, which sits near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. The organization, which O'Neal founded 20 years ago, works to empower youth.

Pratt's lawyers, who included high-profile defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, blamed his arrest on a politically charged campaign by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI against the Black Panthers and other perceived enemies of the U.S. government.

Pratt's belated reversal of fortune came with the disclosure that a key prosecution witness hid the fact he was an ex-felon and a police informant.

Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey granted him a new trial in June 1997, saying the credibility of prosecution witness Julius Butler who testified that Pratt had confessed to him could have been undermined if the jury had known of his relationship with law enforcement. He was freed later that month.

Cochran, best known representing such clients as O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, called the day Pratt's freedom was secured "the happiest day of my life practicing law."

Prosecutors announced two years after the conviction was overturned that they would abandon efforts to retry him.

"I feel relieved that the L.A. DA's office has finally come to their senses in this respect," Pratt said at the time. "But, I am not relieved in that they did not come clean all the way in exposing their complicity with this frame-up, this 27-year trauma."

He settled a false imprisonment and civil rights lawsuit against the FBI and city of Los Angeles for $4.5 million in 2000.


http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gP8--MnEiS9SbBsR1pNnpfinpqRA?docId=91b0ab075aaa4b58968de1793875ce0e

Former LA Black Panther leader Pratt dies at 63

By TOM ODULA
June 4, 2011
Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Former Black Panther Party leader Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, whose murder conviction was overturned after he spent 27 years in prison for a crime he maintained he did not commit, died early Friday from a medical ailment, an associate said. He was 63.

Pratt died just after midnight at his home in Imbaseni village, 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Arusha, Tanzania, where he had lived for at least half a decade, a friend of Pratt's in Arusha, former Black Panther Pete O'Neal, said. O'Neal said he suspects Pratt died of a heart attack or stroke. Pratt was taken to the hospital on Tuesday and Wednesday with high blood pressure.

Pratt was convicted in 1972 of being one of two men who robbed and fatally shot schoolteacher Caroline Olsen on a Santa Monica tennis court in December 1968. No one else was arrested.

Pratt claimed he was in Oakland for Black Panther Party meetings the day of the murder, and that FBI agents and police hid and possibly destroyed wiretap evidence that would prove it.

The Black Panther Party was an African-American revolutionary leftist organization, active in the United States from 1966 until 1982. It achieved notoriety through its involvement in the Black Power movement and in U.S. politics of the 1960s and 70s.

Lawyer Stuart Hanlon, who helped Pratt win his freedom, said Pratt refused to carry any resentment about his treatment by the legal system.

"He had no anger, he had no bitterness, he had no desire for revenge. He wanted to resume his life and have children," Hanlon told The Associated Press from San Francisco on Thursday. "He would never look back."
Pratt lived a peaceful life in Tanzania that he loved, O'Neal said. Pratt returned from a visit to the U.S. about 10 days ago and remarked that he appreciated the pace of his life in Africa.

"He's my hero. He was and will continue to be," O'Neal said. "Geronimo was a symbol of steadfast resistance against all that is considered wrong and improper. His whole life was dedicated to standing in opposition to oppression and exploitation. ... He gave all that he had and his life, I believe, struggling, trying to help people lift themselves up."

Pratt worked with the United African Alliance Community Center in Arusha for the last nine years that he lived in the Tanzanian community, which sits near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. The organization, which O'Neal founded 20 years ago, works to empower youth.

Pratt's lawyers, who included high-profile defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, blamed his arrest on a politically charged campaign by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI against the Black Panthers and other perceived enemies of the U.S. government.

Pratt's belated reversal of fortune came with the disclosure that a key prosecution witness hid the fact he was an ex-felon and a police informant.

Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey granted him a new trial in June 1997, saying the credibility of prosecution witness Julius Butler — who testified that Pratt had confessed to him — could have been undermined if the jury had known of his relationship with law enforcement. He was freed later that month.

Cochran, best known representing such clients as O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, called the day Pratt's freedom was secured "the happiest day of my life practicing law."

Prosecutors announced two years after the conviction was overturned that they would abandon efforts to retry him.

"I feel relieved that the L.A. DA's office has finally come to their senses in this respect," Pratt said at the time. "But, I am not relieved in that they did not come clean all the way in exposing their complicity with this frame-up, this 27-year trauma."

He settled a false imprisonment and civil rights lawsuit against the FBI and city of Los Angeles for $4.5 million in 2000.

Associated Press reporters Denise Petski and Jacob Adelman in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

http://www.democracynow.org/2000/10/5/last_man_standing_the_tragedy_and

October 05, 2000

Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt

On the 10th of June, 1997, amid loud cheers from his family and supporters, former Black Panther Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt walked out of a Santa Monica, California, courtroom after a judge released him on $25,000 bail—just 12 days after reversing his 1972 murder conviction.

Judge Everett Dickey ruled after hearing new evidence that the chief witness against Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt was a police and FBI informant who lied under oath.

Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt spent 26 years and 7 months in prison. He spent 8 years in solitary confinement.

Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt, his family and supporters always maintained that he was targeted and framed by the FBI and the LA Police Department because of his activity in the Black Panther Party.

Two years after his release, Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt won a $4.5 million settlement of his civil rights case against the FBI and the LAPD. The FBI’s share was $1.75 million marking one of the few times in its history that the nation’s top law enforcement agency was forced to admit culpability in a case of false imprisonment.

Three years later we are joined in the studio by Geronimo and his lawyers.

Guests:

Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt
Johnnie Cochran Jr., was Geronimo ji_Jaga’s lawyer.
Stuart Hanlon, was Geronimo ji-Jaga’s lawyer



The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to “democracynow.org”. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.





http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geronimo_Pratt


Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt

Born September 13, 1947 Morgan City, Louisiana Died June 2, 2011 (aged 63) Tanzania Cause of death Heart attack Residence Tanzania Nationality American Other names Geronimo ji-Jaga Ethnicity African Citizenship Tanzania Education UCLA Occupation High ranking member of the Black Panther Party Known for spending 27 years in prison Home town Morgan City, Louisiana Political party Black Panther Party Political movement Black liberation Criminal charge Murder Criminal penalty 27 years in prison Criminal status Released (conviction vacated)

Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt (September 13, 1947 – June 2, 2011), also known as Geronimo ji-Jaga, was a high ranking member of the Black Panther Party. The Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted him in a COINTELPRO operation, which aimed to "neutralize Pratt as an effective BPP functionary."[1] Pratt was falsely accused, tried and convicted of the kidnap and murder of Caroline Olsen in 1972, and spent 27 years in prison, eight of which were in solitary confinement. Pratt was freed in 1997 when his conviction was vacated. He was working as a human rights activist up until the time of his death. Pratt was also the godfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur.[2] He died of a heart attack in his adopted country, Tanzania, on June 2, 2011.[3]

Pratt was born in Morgan City, Louisiana and was a high school quarterback. His father was in the scrap metal business. He served two combat tours in the Vietnam War, reaching the rank of sergeant and earning two Bronze Stars, a Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts.[4][5] and came to Los Angeles,

After he served his two tours, Pratt studied political science at UCLA,[4] using the GI Bill. Pratt was recruited into the Panthers by Bunchy Carter and John Huggins.[6] When Pratt joined the Black Panthers, his years in the army proved useful. He rose to be Minister of Defense of the local organization, after two of its officers were killed. In 1971, Pratt's wife Saundra was killed while 8 months pregnant and left in a ditch. The murder was blamed on a Party schism between supporters of Huey Newton and those of Eldridge Cleaver. Pratt and his wife belonging to the Cleaver faction.[7][8]

By January 1970, the Los Angeles FBI office had sought permission from headquarters for a counterintelligence effort "designed to challenge the legitimacy of the authority exercised" by Pratt in the local Panthers. Another FBI memo dated five months later noted that the Bureau was constantly considering counterintelligence measures designed to neutralize Pratt "as an effective (Panther) functionary."[6]


Murder charges
In 1968, Caroline Olsen, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher, was murdered by gunshot during a robbery on a Santa Monica tennis court. Olsen's husband, Kenneth, who was also shot but survived, initially identified another man as the killer. Julius Butler, a Black Panther and police informant, fingered Geronimo Pratt as the killer. In 1970, Pratt was arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping.

His attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., assured his client that the charges would be dropped, given that Pratt had been 350 miles away on the night of the murder and could prove it. But, according to and alleged by journalist and author Jack Olsen, they were met with setbacks, from lying prosecution witnesses trooped to exculpatory evidence disappearing at police stations and the L.A. District Attorney’s office. According to Olsen, it was later revealed that FBI "moles" had infiltrated defense sessions and monitored Cochran’s phone calls.[9]

Prison

Pratt always maintained his innocence. During his incarceration he studied law and steadfastly built a defense. Pratt was represented by attorneys Stuart Hanlon and Johnnie Cochran in his original trial. Together with William Paparian, Hanlon contributed much to the appeals that later led to Pratt's conviction being vacated.


Murder conviction vacated
Pratt's conviction was vacated on June 10, 1997, on the grounds that the prosecution had concealed evidence that might have exonerated the defendant. In particular, the government had not disclosed that a key witness against Pratt, Julius Butler, was an informant for both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department. An appeals court ruled this fact to be "'favorable' to the defendant, 'suppressed' by a law enforcement agency, and 'material' to the jury's decision to convict."[10]

Pratt eventually received $4.5 million as settlement for false imprisonment. A federal judge approved the settlement of the civil suit: The city of L.A. paid $2.75 million of the settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice paying the $1.75 million remainder.[11]


Later years

Pratt continued to work on behalf of men and women believed to be wrongfully incarcerated until his death, including participation in rallies in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whom he had met when both were active as Black Panthers.

Geronimo was living in Tanzania at the time of his death.[4]


References

^ LA 157-3436, the partially redacted COINTELPRO file on Geronimo Pratt
^ Interview with Geronimo Pratt
^ Death of Elmer "Geronomo" Pratt
^ a b c Douglas Martin, "Elmer G. Pratt, Jailed Panther Leader, Dies at 63" The New York Times (June 3, 2011). Retrieved June 4, 2011
^ Robert J. Lopez, Elmer 'Geronimo' Pratt dies at 63; former Black Panther whose murder conviction was overturned LA Times (June 3, 2011). Retrieved June 5, 2011
^ a b Edward J. Boyer, "Past Haunts Ex-Panther in New Life : Julius Butler's testimony helped convict Geronimo Pratt of murder. Now, the First A.M.E. Church official's prominence upsets some who say Butler was an FBI informant—a claim he denies." The Los Angeles Times (May 24, 1994). Retrieved June 4, 2011
^ "Slaying May Herald Panther Showdown". The Los Angeles Times (November 13, 1971)
^ Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther, pg 444.
^ Jack Olsen, "Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt" Description of book. Retrieved June 4, 2011
^ "The COINTELPRO Casebook: In re Pratt, 82 Cal.Rptr.2d 260 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.1999)" Paul Wolf, Attorney at Law. Retrieved June 4, 2011
^ "Falsely Imprisoned Ex-Black Panther 'Geronimo' Pratt To Get $4.5 Mil. In Settlement" republished from Jet (May 15, 2000). Retrieved June 4, 2011

Bibliography

Olsen, Jack. Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (2000) ISBN 0-38549-367-3

Kuji Foundation Inc. 2000 radio interview of Geronimo Pratt on Democracy Now! with his attorneys Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Stuart Hanlon Framed Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt wins appeal wsws.org