tv Second Look FOX June 12, 2011 11:00pm-11:30pm PDT
is . frank somerville, gasia mikaelian, eke days on ktvu, channel 2 news, complete bay area news coverage. [ music ] tonight the case of jeronimo pratt the black panther leader released a quarter of a century later. we look at the evidence and the fact that he was framed. we will hear from pratt the day after he was released in 1997 all straight ahead. jeronimo died later this month. he was a leader of the black
panther party back in the 60s and convicted of murdering a woman in 1968. he always maintained his innocence saying he was actually in oakland at the time. supporters said he had been framed by the fbi and the la police. in 1997, a judge vacated pratt's conviction and the district attorney decided not to re-try him. now, all of this came after a long public campaign to free him. in 1994, reporter chris harris took a look at the evidence that pratt had been unjustly imprisoned. his given name is elmer gerard pratt, inmate number b13019 in the california prison system serving life plus three years for murder. born and raised in morgan city, louisiana, but the world knows him as geronimo pratt. he went to vietnam with the 82nd airborne and came home a hero with a chest full of medal including the bronze and purple
heart. he enrolled at ucla in a program for gifted black students. and. >> revolution is now. >> reporter: became deputy defense minister of the southern california chapter of the black panthers. [ music ] >> reporter: and now there are growing indications pratt has spent 23 years in prison for something he didn't do. the whole case began on this tennis court in santa monica's lincoln park at 8:10 on the evening of december 18, 1968. remember that time, it's very important in this case. carol lynn and kenneth olson came here to play tennis. suddenly two armed black men came up and demanded money. the olsons gave them everything they had, $18. the man ordered the olsons to lay down on the court and they did. the gunmen then turned and started to walk away. they turned back around, came back and shot the olsons. caroline olson died of her wounds ten days later. kenneth olson survived his wounds. he result -- ultimately
identified pratt as one of the killers even though he claimed he had an alibi. >> i was in oakland, california. >> doing what? >> attending a meeting with the black panther party that we were conducting with the black union. >> reporter: so if he is telling the truth how can a man spend 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't do? according to he and his defenders, the answer to that question is a complex web of alleged perjury and dirty tricks by the la times and the fbi. johnny cochrane was his attorney in that 1972 murder trial. >> they lied and cheated and did everything and stoled his freedom. >> reporter: fbi agent wes swearinger. >> essentially he was framed for murder in order to neutralize him as leader of the black panther party in la. >> reporter: is there any question in your mind that, to use your word, that he was framed? >> none whatsoever. >> reporter: fbi wiretaps lead
credence to his claim of innocence. this is a local wiretap on central central in la. two bay area private investigators claim in these recent declarations that back in 1975 they saw fbi wiretap logs that indicate pratt was in oakland the evening of the murder. a female made a telephone call and had a conversation with geronimo. the bloody assault on the tennis court took place just two hours and 20 minutes after that call. and pratt claims to have made several calls from oakland to the panther offices in la during that time. but those fbi wiretap logs are missing. retired fbi agent swearinger. >> i was with the fbi for over 25 years. it was the only time i was never able to find wiretap logs. so it tells me that someone, i don't know, i could guess, but
someone destroyed two week's worth of wiretap logs to establish that pratt did not call la from san francisco. >> reporter: shortly after the murder, police artists put together these composite sketches of the killers. pratt's defense team didn't know until after he was convicted that kenneth olson had identified other men as the killers prior to pratt's arrest. >> they didn't give me any of the critical evidence by we we could have won the case. we almost won the case. >> reporter: in 1979 olson positively identified this man robert perkins. the problem was he was in jail at the time caroline was murdered. he never saw pratt in a lineup because the police never put him in a lineup. he identified pratt's mug shot from an array of pictures. the lapd led kenneth olson into iding pratt.
>> mr. olson was convinced by the lapd that it was elmer pratt who did the murder. and i was told at that time that mr. olson had identified i think it was at least two or three other people. >> he has now been behind bars since december 1970. he has two children growing up without him. >> i have been through countless shoot-outs in vietnam. i have been through stuff in prison. i mean, i've been through pain. but that's a pain i simply cannot describe, you know, not being there for those children. >> reporter: la 1969, three police officers and four panthers wounded in this four and a half hour shoot-out at panther headquarters. hoover declared. a vietnam war hero had become hoover's worst nightmare. >> he was clearly the target of this area. the person who had to be put behind bars for the black
panther party to be stopped. and consequently they said, well, if you didn't do that who cares. we think he belongs in jail anyway. >> reporter: internal fbi reports called for him to be neutralized as a panther leader. >> it might get someone fired, screw up their marriage if they are married, play havoc with, you know, the landlord or whatever, or having someone framed and put in jail or assassinated. >> reporter: and when pratt and other members were arrested this letter shows he had nothing to do with it. [ music ] >> still to come on "second look" chris harris continues his look at the pratt case and the charges there a miscarriage of justice. plus we will take you to his joyous bay area homecoming after his release in 1997.
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. on "second look" tonight, the case of black panther gear mow pratt died this year in africa 14 years after being released from prison. his backers maintain for 25 years that he was wrongly convicted of murder and should be set free. and in 1997 a judge did just that. back in 1994 reporter chris harris examined the evidence in the pratt case and looked at the claim that pratt was a victim of a miscarriage of justice. >> i can't hear you. good morning. >> good morning. >> reporter: by the end of 1968, the black panther party was at the height of its power feeding thousands of ghetto kids breakfast. [ music ] and teaching them to read. as defense minister for the southern california panthers, pratt was at the height of his power as well. but hoover's campaign against african american militants included a list of so-called key black extremists, people
hoover wanted out of the way. the lapd's criminal conspiracy unit had its own list of tag et cetera and pratt was on both lists. in december 1970 pratt was put in jail, charged with the 1968 tennis court murder of caroline olson in santa monica. attorney johnny cochrane who defended pratt in the murder trial says they went so far as to spy on the defense. >> they planted an informant in our camp to know what we were doing. they wiretapped my phones. >> reporter: this letter confirms the presence of an fbi informantin one of pratt's attorney's office. that brings us to butler the man whose testimony pratt claims put pratt in prison. a man pratt had demoted and fired from the panthers. >> he says that he resigned. >> no. no, he was expelled. >> reporter: fbi memos back up pratt's claim. butler told his contact that he was expelled from the party in
august 1969. pratt claims there were a lot of reasons for expelling butler. one was suspicion that he was a police informant. fbi documents show butler was a so-called ghetto informant. and that five days after pratt kicked him out of the panthers butler wrote this letter, he says, to protect himself from threats from pratt. in this letter, butler claims pratt confessed to the tennis court murder of caroline olson. >> if that was true, then why would i turn around and being the killer that i supposedly am and let him walk free. a killer would turn around and kill him if they knew he had some information on some murder that they did. >> reporter: butler is now a lay leader at first bay church and an attorney. he has refused comment saying he stands by his original trial testimony. during pratt's murder trial butler flatly denied ever being an informant. but butler's trial testimony was not the only thing that damaged pratt's original case. internal battles fuelled split the party up between newton and
cleaver. some backed newton and some supported cleaver. pratt backed cleaver a decision that killed his murder trial alibi. newton kicked pratt out of the party and said anyone testifying for pratt would be an enemy of the panthers. he was there attending meetings when caroline olson was murdered in santa monica. more than two decades later newton is dead and people who said they were with him are stepping forward in these declarations. bobby seal says he was at panther meetings in oakland december 17th and 18th, 1968 and he says this.
>> he says he also refused to testify for pratt because of that order from newton. pratt case juror hamilton says the thing she knows now about the panther politics and contradictions in butler's story make her feel sick to her stomach. >> i feel betrayed. i feel -- >> by whom? >> by the government, by the fbi, by the lapd, by the district attorney's office. >> although there is now the das review of the pratt case going on, pratt and his defenders are not getting their hopes up. >> everyone can see based on their evidence that i didn't do this murder. but they are not asking that. we want more time. so it's just like it's another big disappointment that we've been set up for. >> he says it's not enough to show pratt had an alibi. he names the men that he thinks actually did commit the murder.
>> the two people who we think are the real killers of mrs. olson are larry hatter and herb et cetera swilly who were fringe members. they would attend black panther party affairs when it suited their own purposes. >> hatter and swilly are both dead. these declarations from four men who grew up in south la with swilly and hatter claim that the two men told them they had done the tennis court robbery and murder. we are not revealing the names of these men to protect their identities. this declaration is from one of the four. he was actually arrested for the tennis court murder but then released, long before pratt was charged. the man claims he told the lapd detectives that hatter and swilly said "they had been at the tennis court" and described a man and woman on the tennis court shaking in fear and crying just before they were shot.." the declaration goes on to say that detectives: "told me not to discuss this with anyone if i knew what was good for me.."
these are police composite sketches of the two killers based on descriptions from the dead woman's wounded husband kenneth olson and a whom who saw the killers running away. the prosecution argues that the composite on the right was pratt. take another look at the pictures of hatter and swilly. pratt's defenders say the is he bronze medal wants to the composites is stunning. >> there is almost a cold chill come over you because here are the two people in the identitykit and you say, god, these are the guys. >> pratt has been up for parole 12 times now and 12 times it has been denied. but pratt says he has been told if he would express remorse for the caroline olson murder he would get a parole date. he won't do it. >> if they want to let me out tomorrow, i will be glad to go. freedom i wouldn't deny that. but to go there and beg and say i feel re force -- full for something i didn't do, that's not me. >> reporter: and more than 20
years hamilton remembers that day and wonders. >> oh, my god, if i made a mistake. and he walked by and he called us racist pigs also as they took him out of the courtroom. it was not a good feeling. >> reporter: did you make a mistake? >> oh, yeah, now i believe i did. >> reporter: and on the 18th floor of the criminal courts building the review by the district attorney staff conditions and pratt waits. >> i'm always every day that doesn't matter. this is the day that the truth is going to be revealed to the extent or to someone who has the authority like the la da to allow the truth to be revealed and i will be released. when we come back on "second look," set free, pratt leaves prison and comes to the bay area. and a bit later, we will hear from pratt himself the day after his release. follow "second look" on facebook and twitter.
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any of that nasty red tape. here he comes again. let's set him free! [ male announcer ] join rapid rewards and enjoy unlimited reward seats, no blackout dates, and no red tape. ♪ . a former black panther leader pratt spent 27 years in prison and was denied parole nine times for a murder he said he did not commit.
his backers fought for more than a quarter of a century to free him and finally succeeded in 1997. ktvu's rita williams first brought us this report on june 10, 1997, the day pratt walked free. [ applause ] >> reporter: friends, family, supporters, the media mobbed the former black panther leader as he left an orange county jail in santa anna just after noon today. >> i will continue to support the people and a struggle that we will never relent when we seek in justice. >> i feel wonderful. a long time in coming. >> earlier in court attorney johnny cochrane asked the judge to set bail at $25,000. $1,000 for each of the 25 years to life pratt was sentenced to. cochrane was pratt's original attorney in the 70s. the la attorney's office did not oppose pratt's release. pratt then addressed the judge, the same judge who last month
set aside pratt's conviction. >> good morning, justice. i just wanted to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your fair and courageous ruling. and assure you that any further proceedings in this case, i'll be the first one here. and that's my word as a vietnam vet and as a man. >> bail will be set at $25,000. [ applause ] >> pratt's attorneys say this man, butler, now an la attorney, lied under oath saying pratt confessed to the killing. and last month's judge's ruling granting a new trial said jurors should have been told butler was an fbi informant at the time. da gill is appealing the ruling. >> the truth is going to come out. a lot of this has come out but more will come out about the truth of these murders. >> pratt says he is committed to finding the real killers of school teacher caroline olson. his supporters believe the
killers were two fringe members of the black panthers, both dead now, and point out how closely they match the composite sketches of the killers. >> two days later, pratt arrived in the bay area where his wife and children lived. ktvu's rita williams was at sfo for his happy homecoming. >> the response from just every day people on the streets and the love, the positive vibrations, i didn't expect that. i expected, you know, we are going to win one of these days and a hohum kind of thing. but it's really beautiful, really touching. >> reporter: at san francisco airport this afternoon, pratt returned home a free man. the last time the former black panther leader was in the bay area, he was at san quentin prison behind bars for a murder he says he did not commit. >> it feels good to be home, man. this man here, i love him to death. [ laughter ] >> reporter: his hugs from for
stewart hanlan a san francisco attorney who first met pratt in san quentin in 1974 and has worked for free ever since to set him free. an orange county judge finally granted pratt a new trial and let him out on bail two days ago. >> i am amazed how people have embraced the case of pratt. it has let us talk about issues that a lot of us want to talk about. and people now accept oh, yeah, the fbi framed him. it's not an argument. >> when you go through what i went through, you learn that business has no place in a human heart. >> it's been a long time. the children have had to suffer and grow up without their father. i feel a lot of things. i'm just so sorry it took this long for him to be freed. but thank god it has happened. >> reporter: she married her husband while behind bars. both of their children were conceived in prison. pratt proudly says he is here to see his 14-year-old son graduate from middle school tomorrow. >> i love that he is coming up here to see my graduation.
>> congratulations. >> that's what i was hoping for. thank you. >> reporter: but tuesday just hours after his release, pratt missed his daughter's high school graduation in marin. >> i had my graduation in la. and my dad. >> when we come back on "second look," pratt talks about his celebrated case. >> follow "second look" on facebook and twitter.
. black panther geronimo pratt spent 27 years in prison for a murder he said he did not commit. when a judge ordered his release in 1997, pratt sat down with la television reporter christine define to talk about his time in prison and the future he anticipated as he walked free for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. >> reporter: when you walked through that jail door and out into freedom, what went through your mind? >> oh, this can't be real. somebody will come and get me. i am going to hear a whistle blowing saying wait a minute. that's what was going through
my mind. i said wait. and then i saw all of the people. and at first i thought, well, maybe they were doing something else, you know. and i looked. but the reaction, the overwhelming reaction from the people. >> reporter: pratt was a ucla student and decorated vietnam veteran when running the la chapter of the black radical party. >> i was out there talking about this and this made the government so mad at me coming at the heels of vietnam right after martin luther king was killed. >> reporter: in 1994 they told the pratt story that exposed how the panthers had been declared a national threat by the fbi's j. edgar hoover to neutralize pratt. >> by them hitting me for helping my people made my people hate him. >> reporter: he spent 27 years in solitary confinement.
but today he has peace. >> you have to learn things there and various eastern forms of discipline. and when you enter into that realm of discipline, you right away you learn you cannot have no room for bitterness, period. >> reporter: no bitterness towards butler? >> no way. >> reporter: holding his only grandchild pratt is ready to make up for lost time. >> i want to see my mother. go see momma. and do something with the children. like i said, the biggest hurt is not being there for your children. and you see it so much in prison with youngsters coming in fatherless. >> reporter: today surrounded by family and former fellow panthers, pratt prepares for life. >> times have changed. >> i see. >> in a world that is way different from 1970, the year he was arrested, what may seem routine to you and me is very new to pratt. even learning how to use a seat- belt can be a challenge.