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Geronimo Pratt
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    (September 13, 1947-June 2, 2011)
    Born in Morgan City, Louisiana
    Birth name was Elmer Pratt
    Minister of Defense for the Black Panther Party (BPP)
    Convicted of the 1968 murder of Caroline Olsen in Santa Monica (1972)
    Conviction overturned on the grounds that the prosecution concealed exculpatory evidence from the defense (1997)
    Received a $4.5 million settlement for wrongful imprisonment
    Before the murder trial, he had been arrested for assault and possession of a pipe bomb. (Although neither case was brought to trial.)
    Olsen's husband Kenneth identified Pratt as one of the two men who had shot him and Caroline.
    Multiple witnesses testified that the killers drove off in a red and white GTO with North Carolina plates, a description matching Pratt's car.
    One damaging piece of evidence was submitted by his defense: since Olsen described the two assailants as clean-shaven, the defense submitted a Polaroid picture allegedly taken at Christmas of 1968 (a week after the killing) of Pratt with a goatee that they argued he could not have grown in such a short time.
    A Polaroid representative called as a witness by the prosecution testified that the picture could not have been taken in 1968 since the film in the photo had been first manufactured in May of 1969.
    Jurors recalled that during deliberations they argued that if the defendant had lied about the photo, he might have lied in other testimony.
    After his release, he said, 'I want to be the first to call for a new revolution.'
    He also used the name Geronimo Ji-Jaga.
    By the time of his death, he may have been best known for being Tupac Shakur's godfather.
    He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, earning two Bronze Stars, a Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts.
    His eight months pregnant wife Saundra was killed by a rival Black Panther faction (1971).
    Pratt's car was frequently borrowed by other Panthers and their associates.
    The FBI's COINTELPRO operation aimed to 'neutralize Pratt as an effective BPP functionary.'
    The main witness against Pratt other than Kenneth Olsen was Julius Butler, a rival of Pratt's for the Defense Minister post turned FBI informant.
    Kenneth Olsen had originally identified a different suspect (who turned out to have been in prison during the murder) as the killer.
    Three jurors from the original trial signed affidavit's that if they had known of Butler's informant status and Olsen's prior identification, they would not have voted to convict.
    After the death of Huey P. Newton, six Black Panthers came forward to claim that Newton had kept them from testifying that Pratt had been at a Party meeting in Oakland when the murders were committed.
    William Tyrone Hutchinson claimed that police threatened him into remaining silent after he reported that Larry Hatter and Herbert Swilley, two heroin addicts with a history of violent robberies, had bragged at a Panthers office about being present when the Olsens were attacked.

Credit: C. Fishel

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