[sixties-l] Cochran and Geronimo Discuss New Book

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 11/10/00

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    Cochran and Geronimo Discuss New Book
    By Herb Boyd
    National Editor, TBWT
    For nearly thirty years Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, and attorneys Stuart Hanlon
    and Johnnie Cochran were bound together like a living triangle, each of them
    dedicated to a singular mission: how to get Geronimo out of prison.
    Targeted by the FBI as a member of the Black Panther Party and later 
    railroaded to
    prison on a trumped up charge, Geronimo was finally released three years
    ago after serving 27 years behind bars--and too many years in solitary
    The triumphant threesome were together recently in Manhattan for a
    roundtable discussion with reporters, where they took turns recalling the 
    events that
    made Geronimo one of the most well known political prisoners in the world,
    the long years of frustration of getting him out of prison, and the
    ultimate settlement of a lawsuit for false imprisonment and violation of civil
    The City of Los Angeles agreed to pay $2.75 million and the FBI $1.75
    million.  It was the first public acknowledgment by the FBI of its
    "We filed a lawsuit for Mr. Pratt in the Central District of Southern
    California and the rationale was that he was wrongfully detained, tried
    and imprisoned," Cochran began.  "Mr. Pratt was one of many victims of the
    FBI's COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence program) set up to neutralize black
    political activists."
    Cochran then recalled when he first got involved in the case and meeting
    Hanlon.  "Stuart was in the attorney room at San Quentin where we had come
    to visit Mr. Pratt," he remembered.  "Stuart was still in law school, but he
    already had a passion that Mr. Pratt was an innocent man.  And the more
    injustice was heaped on us, the more we were resolved not to give up."
    It was during this time that Cochran, who had won ten murder cases in a
    row, was appointed to represent Pratt, along with another attorney, Charles
    Hollopeter.  "Geronimo told us repeatedly as we prepared to try his case
    that 'they' were out to get him.  We wanted to know who this 'they' was.
    Later, we found out it was the FBI and its COINTELPRO operations."
    "We had no idea the FBI was out to get him," Hanlon interjected.  "It
    wasn't until 1975 that information about COINTELPRO was finally disclosed."
    And how did Geronimo know he was being targeted?  "Well, when you're the
    victim of something like that you know it isn't local," Geronimo
    "They had their intelligence and we had ours, and ours told us this was
    happening.  After the police killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago
    in 1969, we knew it was something more than just local."
    Even before Geronimo was wrongfully convicted after being misidentified
    and charged with the murder of a woman in Santa Monica, there was a similar
    incident in which he was accused of committing a robbery in Alabama, "and
    he wasn't even in the state at the time," Hanlon explained.
    Cochran then took time to relate the background on Geronimo's case and why
    his alibi failed to convince the jury.  "First of all, you have to
    understand there was a rupture in the Panther Party between those followers 
    of a
    faction led by Eldridge Cleaver and those devoted to Huey Newton," he 
    said.  "All
    of the leaders of the Panthers knew Geronimo was in Oakland and could not
    have been in Santa Monica when Cathleen Olsen was killed.  But because of the
    rupture, we could only get Kathleen Cleaver to appear at the trial, and we
    had to pay for her trip from Algiers where Cleaver's group was based at
    that time.
    "Later, after the COINTELPRO disclosures, they all wanted to come
    forward," Cochran continued, "but that didn't help us in 1972."
    "There were existing FBI logs that showed conclusively, since they had me
    under surveillance, that I was in Oakland at the time of the murder,"
    Pratt added.
    Cochran said they became aware of the missing FBI logs from a retired FBI
    agent who admitted that he had seen them.  Moreover, the husband of the
    murdered woman had positively identified two other men as his wife's
    killers, but the defense never received these accounts.
    During the appeal process, Cochran was informed that there were informants
    in the defense environment, which compromised the appeal.
    This was an odd twist since the defense had incontrovertible evidence that
    Julio Butler, the prosecution's star witness, was an FBI informant.  "I
    asked him several times while he was on the stand if he was a paid 
    informant for
    the FBI," Cochran said, "he said he wasn't."  In fact, Butler had informed
    more than 33 times for the FBI, and later, in 1996, an investigator for
    the DA's office, found cards with Butler's name on it noting that he was a
    paid informant.
    "It was not so much that Butler was an FBI informant, he was also the main
    witness against Geronimo," Hanlon said.  Butler told the court that
    Geronimo had told him he had committed the murder.
    Many of the jurors admitted after the trial was over that they would have
    not convicted Pratt if other leaders of the Panthers had testified in his
      Two of the jurors also explained that they were swayed by the refutation
    of a Polaroid photo offered by the defense showing Pratt with facial hair,
    that contradicted witnesses who said the murderer was clean-shaven.  The
    prosecution presented an expert witness who told the court the film
    package was dated much later than the date offered by the defense.
    "It was compelling because it was the last thing the jurors heard,"
    Cochran said.  The attempt to rebut the expert witness went for naught, 
    though the
    defense was prepared to show how the batch of Polaroid film was misdated.
    "In short," Cochran concluded, "the fix was in.  There was no way Geronimo
    was going to be acquitted."
    "We had a ball and chain around our legs in a foot race when our opponents
    didn't have one, and we still almost won the case," Pratt observed.
     >From that date in 1972, it would take Cochran, Hanlon and other defense
    attorneys 28 years to see Pratt walk to freedom.  "We were determined, no
    matter how long it took, to get Geronimo released from prison," Cochran
    said.  "That was a promise Stuart and I made way back then, and here we are."
    This story is told in a riveting account by reporter/author Jack Olsen in
    Last Man Standing-The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt (Doubleday,
    2000), which we will review later this month.

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