Court Upholds Black Panther Ruling
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A state appeals court refused Tuesday to reinstate the murder conviction of former Black Panther Elmer ``Geronimo″ Pratt, overturned by a judge because of revelations that a prosecution witness hid that he was a police informer.
Pratt, now free on bail, served 27 years in prison for the 1968 robbery and fatal shooting of schoolteacher Caroline Olsen on a Santa Monica tennis court.
He claimed he was in Oakland for Black Panther meetings when she was killed, and that FBI agents and police hid and possibly destroyed wiretap evidence that would prove it. He blamed the arrest on a campaign by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI against the Black Panthers and other perceived enemies of the U.S. government.
Judge Everett Dickey granted him a new trial in June 1997, saying the credibility of prosecution witness Julius Butler, who had quoted Pratt as confessing, could have been undermined if the jury had known of his relationship with law enforcement.
Butler denied he was an informant. Evidence discovered later by Pratt’s lawyers showed, among other things, that he was listed on the district attorney’s files as an informant and that a prosecutor had agreed to let him avoid jail for four felonies.
District Attorney Gil Garcetti’s office appealed the ruling, arguing that the other evidence against Pratt, including two eyewitnesses, was so strong that he would have been convicted without Butler’s testimony.
But the 2nd District Court of Appeal, in a 3-0 ruling, said it was ``unable to profess confidence in a guilty verdict based solely on evidence unconnected to Butler.″
Juliana Drous, a lawyer for Pratt, said the ruling should end the case.
``The courts have done the right thing,″ she said.
The district attorney said he’s reviewing the case and would be unable to comment until Wednesday, spokeswoman Victoria Pipkin said.