>Date: Fri, 3 Nov 2000 >From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Firefly192) >Subject: Geronimo Pratt: 'Last Man Standing' > >Here's an interesting review of an important new book on racial issues: > >"Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt" >by Jack Olsen >Doubleday & Co. 500 pp. > >'Last Man' tells compelling story of broken system >By Steve Weinberg >Special to The Seattle Times and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel > >A few years ago, most people reacted skeptically whenever I started to talk >about the latest wrongful-conviction case that had come to my attention. There >are too many safeguards in the system for wrongful convictions to occur, my >acquaintances said. Police, prosecutors, juries and judges would never send >innocent men and women to prison, they said. > Author Jack Olsen has known for a long time that wrongful > convictions occur >more often than generally acknowledged. In 1991, he published "Predator: Rape, >Madness and Injustice in Seattle." The book revolved around the wrongful >conviction of Steve Titus for rape, and how the doggedness of Seattle Times >reporter Paul Henderson led to Titus' freedom. "Predator" was the 24th book by >Olsen, a Seattle-area writer who turned true-crime stories into an art >form.. . >. > With "Last Man Standing," Olsen returns to the > wrongful-conviction theme, at a >juncture when it has become accepted as the conventional wisdom. His return to >the theme is welcome: "Predator" was a mighty good book, but "Last Man >Standing" is a great book, as compelling and thorough as any >wrongful-conviction book I have read - and I have read most of them. > Olsen chose a high-profile case for his new book - the story of Elmer >"Geronimo" Pratt had been in the news since shortly after the 1968 murder of a >woman during a robbery on a Santa Monica, Calif., public tennis court. Because >Pratt, a decorated Vietnam veteran who moved to California after a >more-or-less >idyllic Louisiana bayou upbringing, was widely known as a leader of the Black >Panther Party, his name stuck in the minds of news consumers everywhere. > Despite the high-profile nature of the murder case, little had > been written >in-depth. As a result, Olsen's book goes where no other journalist had gone. > The book opens during 1975, in medias res. Pratt is incarcerated > at San >Quentin, protesting his innocence despite five years in solitary >confinement as >a convicted murderer. Law student Stuart Hanlon is visiting Pratt on the >recommendation of a friend. Hanlon senses that perhaps Pratt is innocent. So >Hanlon calls on the lawyer who defended Pratt - the accomplished but not yet >famous (as in O.J. Simpson) Johnnie Cochran. Cochran considers his loss in the >Pratt trial the most devastating of his career. > At the meeting, Cochran tells Hanlon that Pratt "is a victim of a > frame-up >that goes so high it's scary. I wouldn't be surprised if the FBI was >involved." >Wondering about the conspiratorial tone of that statement, Hanlon asks, >"What's >the proof?" Cochran replies, "That's the problem." > Olsen vividly tells the story of the collaboration between the > polished >African-American lawyer Cochran and the unpolished Jewish-Irish lawyer Hanlon >as they work year-in, year-out, decade upon decade, to free Pratt, one of the >most remarkable individuals they have ever encountered. > After placing his readers at the 1975 meetings between Pratt and > Hanlon, then >Hanlon and Cochran, Olsen jumps back to the convict's upbringing in Morgan >City, La., 99 miles from New Orleans. Olsen crams a mini-biography into a few >chapters before detailing the murder, the questionable law-enforcement >investigation, the indictment, the trial, the imprisonment and the decades of >prison torture that probably would have broken just about anybody other than >Pratt. > Although readers know that Pratt will eventually be exonerated > and freed from >prison, the suspense in the book is close to unbearable: How can the >prosecutors continue to insist that Pratt killed the woman? How can Pratt >prove >innocence from a prison cell? Will the prison authorities conveniently allow >him to die behind bars? Will Pratt's loving siblings, mother and friends crack >because of the ordeal? Will any judge, anywhere, even listen to the new >evidence of actual innocence? > Some readers might say the book ends happily - Pratt is at > liberty, and wins a >large monetary settlement from the city of Los Angeles as well as the FBI. But >these cases never really have happy endings: Lives are ruined, while the >actual >criminals remain at large to kill or rape again. > Meanwhile, those responsible for the wrongful convictions, > especially the >prosecutors, are hardly ever punished. Maybe Olsen's book will help generate >the outrage to fix a system that convicts far too many innocent individuals, >then refuses to admit error. > > ^" Steve Weinberg has just published an investigation of > prosecutorial >misconduct in American Lawyer magazine. He is professor of journalism at the >University of Missouri, a contributor to the Columbia Journalism Review, and >founding director of IRE -- Investigative Reporters and Editors. Author Jack >Olsen may be reached at www.jackolsen.com.
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