Revolutionary Worker #911, June 15, 1997
We hope that by the time you read this, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt--the longest held political prisoner in the U.S.--will be released on bail after almost 27 years of unjust imprisonment. At the same time, the L.A. District Attorney has announced he will appeal the decision which ordered Geromino released on the basis that he had been denied a fair trial.
As RW readers know, on Thursday, May 26, California Superior Court Judge Everett W. Dickey threw out Geronimo's conviction in a Santa Ana court. Judge Dickey ordered Geronimo released from prison on the grounds that he did not get a fair trial. A bail hearing was set for Tuesday, June 10, and on Friday, June 6 Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti had indicated that he would not oppose bail. Press reports also indicated that Judge Dickey would make it possible for Geronimo to watch the graduation ceremonies of his daughter Shona and his son Hiroji in the coming week. Except for court appearances, none of Geronimo's family has see him away from prison in almost a quarter century.
Geronimo's release is a real victory for the people. Geronimo's release was won by the struggle of the people--the persistance of all those who knew that Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt had been framed because he was a Black Panther leader, including a fine legal defense team. The court decision overturning Geronimo's conviction was further proof of the complete worthlessness of the justice system that has kept an innocent man locked up for political reasons for over 25 years. And this decision in favor of Geronimo will have a positive impact on public opinion in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and other political prisoners. (See feature coverage on the case in RW #910.)
Judge Dickey found that the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, the LAPD, and the FBI worked together to use a police snitch Julius Butler to convict Panther leader Geronimo, that Butler had lied on the witness stand, and that Butler's history as an informant had been deliberately kept from the defense at Geronimo's trial. Dickey found that all this evidence "would have put the case in a whole different light" at the time of Geronimo's trial in 1971 and that Geronimo had been denied the right to a fair trial. The judge also made a number of points in the decision that broadly discredit the rest of the prosecution's case against Geronimo.
As readers know, the FBI was well aware that Geronimo could not possibly have committed the murder because he was 400 miles away in the San Franciso Bay Area at a Panther meeting.
As we celebrate victory, we also need to prepare to fight this case all the way through to victory. Because the system is still in effect. On Friday, L.A. DA Garcetti announced his intention to appeal the decision overturning Geronimo's conviction to a higher court.
Given the Santa Ana decision and the mountain of evidence which shows that Geronimo was innocent, Garcetti should have known that he was licked and dropped the charges. But the persistance and vindictiveness of the authorities in this matter continues.
More than a week after his conviction had been overturned, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, was still not out of prison--because the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John H. Reid refused to set a bail hearing until he had reviewed the case file--25 years of documents! Just how blatantly unjust and mean-spirited these delays were was brought out when some of the prison guards at Mule Creek State Prison--who believe Geromino was unjustly imprisoned--volunteered to transport Geronimo on their own time to Los Angeles.
Monday, June 2, an L.A. Times editorial called on L.A. DA Gil Garcetti to "close the book on this shameful chapter in law enforcement history" and drop the case--expressing the sentiments of a broad cross section of the L.A. power structure. Finally, late in the afternoon, the head of the California Judicial Council appointed Judge Dickey to the case for the next two months, and the June 10 bail hearing was set.
By Friday Garcetti had announced his intention to appeal the case--demonstrating his talent for "picking up rocks only to drop them on one's own feet." Johnnie L. Cochran, one of Geronimo's attorneys, called Garcetti's decision to appeal "sickening" and "ridiculous." "They can't retry this case for a lot of reasons because of their own impropriety," Cochran said, "So, why appeal it? It's an act of folly." Stuart Hanlon, Geronimo's lead attorney, challenged Garcetti, "If you're so convinced Mr. Pratt is guilty, then you get in there yourself and retry the case. Let's forget about the appeal. Let's go to trial in 60 days." Garcetti had hinted at the Friday news conference that he would not retry the case if the appeal is unsuccessful. The Los Angeles Times said that privately Garcetti's staff have also admitted that they could not win a conviction in a new trial.
It is possible that Garcetti's appeal aims to challenge legal arguments made by Judge Dickey. The judge found that Geronimo's defense did not have to prove that the new evidence about Butler would have led to a not-guilty verdict--the defense only had to prove that the new evidence would have put the whole case "in a different light." And this ruling goes against the tide of recent federal statutes on habeus corpus which put a very heavy burden on the defense in order to get a new trial in such cases--especially for death row prisoners.
But whatever the reasons for Garcetti's appeal, if Garcetti insists, the people will persist--until this whole legal system is exposed as a corrupt and unjust machinery for the suppression of the people and the charges against Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt are dropped.
As the RW said last issue: "We need to celebrate and we need to be vigilant and strong in the days to come. The people demand that the system Free Geronimo Now! All charges must be dropped immediately! We want to see Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt walking proud and triumphant through the streets--getting and giving love. The system has already stolen too much of his life."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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