San Quentin Six Member Freed From Prison
VACAVILLE, Calif. (AP) _ A former Black Panther convicted of murdering two guards in a bloody 1971 San Quentin escape attempt walked out of prison on bail Thursday, almost two years after a judge ordered that he get a new trial.
″I feel great. ... I’m just very happy,″ Johnny Spain told reporters at the front gate of the state prison at Vacaville, 50 miles east of San Francisco.
″I won’t let anyone down who has supported me and there have been many who supported me,″ he said, adding he was prepared to deal with the challenges of living on the outside after 21 years behind bars.
Spain was hugged and congratulated by attorneys and investigators who worked on his case, and members of their families.
Attorney Dennis Riordan said Spain had promised to attend a play in San Francisco on Thursday night with the 10-year-old daughter of one of his supporters. Riordan said Spain would remain in the San Francisco area until at least Wednesday for court appearances, then planned to visit Los Angeles to see his wife and children.
Some $100,000 of Spain’s bail has been posted but $250,000 in property must be guaranteed by Wednesday, Riordan said, adding that he anticipated no problems.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who had previously granted Spain a new trial in the ″San Quentin Six″ case, a state lawyer’s request Wednesday to delay bail until the state parole board reconsiders his case.
Spain, 38, has been behind bars since December 1966, when he was arrested for a murder and robbery in Los Angeles.
He later became the only prisoner convicted of murder in a 1971 uprising in which George Jackson, widely known for his book of prison writings, ″Soledad Brother,″ was killed, along with two other prisoners and three guards.
Authorities said Spain, seen running from a maximum-security unit with Jackson, conspired with him in an escape attempt that led to the killings.
Henderson reversed Spain’s convictions in 1986, saying he had been denied a fair trial by being required to wear heavy shackles for every court appearance during the five years of proceedings.
The state’s appeal of the ruling is to be argued Monday before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Parker ordered Spain paroled immediately from the sentence he has been serving for the 1966 murder, a sentence that had kept Henderson from granting bail earlier.
She found that the parole board had improperly lengthened his sentence nearly six years by applying regulations passed in 1976 to disciplinary violations committed in 1970 and 1971.
Riordan said Spain had spent twice as long in prison as the average sentence for a similar crime.
Lawyers said Spain would be living in San Francisco and working as an electrician while his case is on appeal. Henderson’s order allows him to travel within the state and visit his wife, whom he married while in prison, and two young sons in Los Angeles.