Geronimo Pratt Update

Arm The Spirit ats at etext.org
Sun Apr 21 04:19:38 MDT 1996


Judge Rules Ex-Black Panther Must Take Case To State Supreme Court

By JENNIFER BOWLES, Associated Press Writer

Los Angeles, California (AP - April 19, 1996) A judge has dealt a blow to
ex-Black Panther leader Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt's quest for freedom, ruling
the bid to overturn his 1972 murder conviction must go to the state
Supreme Court. Pratt, wearing jailhouse blues, shook his head Wednesday as
Superior Court Judge Michael A. Cowell explained why he sided with
prosecutors who said state law requires that Pratt's case belongs in
California's highest court.

"Quite simply, this is not that court," said Cowell, who added that
he was making no judgment on the merits of Pratt's case. As court
adjourned, someone in the courtroom yelled "Be strong G" to Pratt
as he was led away. Outside the Criminal Courts Building, some
30 people held a loud protest in support of Pratt.

Attorneys Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Stuart Hanlon, who claim their
client was framed by the FBI because of his role in the radical group,
sought to keep the case in Superior Court because a judge there could
order an evidentiary hearing and they could present evidence that has
surfaced since Pratt's conviction. They would be unable to do that in
the state Supreme Court, because the justices don't hear new evidence.
Rather, they review a case and hear oral arguments.

"I was disappointed, but it will not stop us," Cochran said outside
court. "I will not rest until he's free."

Cochran claimed prosecutors sought out a technicality in state law in
an effort to delay the case. Prosecutors, however, said there was no
other choice because Pratt has had earlier hearings in Superior Court
and the State Court of Appeal since his conviction. But the Supreme
Court, they said, could return the case to Superior Court. "If the
Supreme Court finds merit in their petition, then they'll have their
day in court," Deputy District Attorney Brentford J. Ferreira told
the judge.

Hanlon expressed doubt that would happen, pointing to a conservative
bench. "All seven justices were appointed by (former Gov.) Deukmejian
and (Gov.) Wilson," he said. "We'll have to figure out a different
strategy."

Pratt, 48, was convicted of murdering Carolyn Olsen during a 1968
robbery that netted $18 on a Santa Monica tennis court. He is serving
a life term at a state prison in Ione, near Sacramento, and has been
denied parole 16 times.

Pratt, a decorated Vietnam veteran, has always maintained he was in
Oakland the night the 27-year-old schoolteacher was shot to death.
"I'm totally convinced of his innocence," said Jason Young, a
therapy counselor from Inglewood who spent his lunch break taking part
in the march outside the court building. "He's just another victim of
an unjust system. And here's a man who went to Vietnam and defended
his country."

Pratt, who was brought to the Los Angeles County jail for Wednesday's
hearing and another one last month, was ordered back to state prison.
District Attorney Gil Garcetti agreed to review Pratt's case in 1993
after a request by crusading lay minister Jim McCloskey, whose
Princeton, N.J.-based Centurion Ministries specializes in exonerating
those wrongly convicted.

McCloskey and defense attorneys claim there is new evidence to show
Pratt was a victim of an FBI program known as COINTELPRO that targeted
political dissidents during the 1960s and '70s.

They allege the FBI hid and possibly destroyed wiretap evidence that
would prove Pratt was in Oakland the night of the murder and that the
key witness against Pratt was a government informant. In addition,
they say six former Black Panthers, who declined to testify during
Pratt's trial because of a split in the radical group, have come
forward to say Pratt was with them in Oakland.


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