Prosecutor: Bingham’s Flight Proves Guilt
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) _ Jurors hearing the murder case against former fugitive lawyer Stephen Bingham must consider the political climate in 1971, the year of a bloody prison riot he is accused of sparking, a defense lawyer said Tuesday.
Gerald Schwartzbach, head of the team defending Bingham on two counts of murder and one of conspiracy, made the statement during his closing arguments before a Marin County Superior Court jury.
Bingham, 44, is accused of slipping a pistol to militant inmate George Jackson during an Aug. 21, 1971, visit at San Quentin prison, leading to a breakout attempt that left three guards and three inmates, including Jackson, dead.
Bingham disappeared the day of the violence and remained a fugitive until he surrendered in 1984. During most of those 13 years, he lived in Paris under an assumed identity.
Schwartzbach repeated defense contentions the FBI, prison officials and other authorities wanted Jackson to think he could escape from San Quentin. Defense attorneys have said officials wanted to get rid of Jackson, a Black Panther leader who had rallied inmates around prison reform.
″You have to appreciate what things were like in 1971,″ Schwartzbach said.
″You have to understand that George Jackson wasn’t just an inmate in San Quentin prison in 1971... Who he was and what he was about and what he represented to other people is a big part of what this case is all about.″
Schwartzbach said authorities had a volume of information that showed that Jackson was planning an escape, but never tightened security.
Earlier, Assistant District Attorney Terry Boren said Bingham’s decision to flee the country after the uprising proves he is guilty.
Jackson hid the 9mm pistol under an Afro wig and pulled it on guards when he was returned to his maximum security cellblock minutes later, Boren said.
Boren quoted the biblical book of Proverbs to show Bingham fled because of guilt, not fear of being framed as he has claimed.
″The wicked flee when no one pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as lions,″ Boren said. He said Bingham left the country before warrants were issued for his arrest, basing his decision to become a fugitive on news report that indicated officials were searching for him.
Bingham fled ″without a whimper of protest to anybody″ that he was innocent, Boren said. ″In response to a report he says he knew was not true, he left the country.″
Bingham testified earlier this month that he fled because he feared he would be killed if he was captured. Bingham and his attorneys contend Jackson was assassinated by corrupt prison officials under cover of the escape attempt, which got out of hand.
They also say investigators picked Bingham as a scapegoat to explain away the bloodbath. Bingham said he believed some officials, including guards, lied during testimony in his trial, which began April 7.