Radical Defendants

8 Cases

Alameda County, CA

Huey P. Newton

Oct 28, 1967

Before any evidence was heard, many Americans believed that Huey P. Newton, co-founder and “minister of defense” of the Black Panther Party, had murdered a police officer in cold blood. Others were equally certain that the charge was a trumped-up attempt to crush the militant Black Panther Party.
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San Francisco County, CA

Billings & Mooney

July 22, 1916

Warren K. Billings and Thomas J. Mooney, both radical labor leaders, were convicted of setting off a suitcase bomb at a Preparedness Day Parade that killed 10 people and wounded 40 others. The two were convicted because of police perjury, concealment of exonerating evidence, and prosecutorial misconduct. Governor Culbert Olson pardoned both men in 1939.  [3/06]

 Los Angeles County, CA

Geronimo Pratt

Dec 18, 1968

Elmer A. Pratt, aka Geronimo Pratt, was convicted in 1972 of murdering Caroline Olson, a white schoolteacher. At the time of his arrest, Pratt was the leader of the Los Angeles Black Panther Party and a target of the FBI, which had vowed to neutralize him. While viewing a lineup, the victim's husband, Kenneth Olson, had identified another man, Eugene Perkins, as his wife's killer. The police rectified this situation by conducting another lineup in which the husband identified Pratt. They then removed all information concerning the identification of Perkins from the police file. Several jury members said they would have voted “not guilty” if they had known about the identification of Pratt.

An investigation by Centurion Ministries found that the state's primary witness against Pratt was an informant for the FBI, the LAPD, and the L.A. District Attorney's office. Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey ruled that the informant had lied extensively about Pratt at his trial. FBI agent Wesley Swearingen reported, “My supervisor and several agents on the racial squad knew that Pratt was innocent because the FBI had wiretap logs proving that Pratt was in the San Francisco area several hours before the shooting of Caroline Olsen and that he was there the day after the murder.” Pratt was freed in June 1997. Pratt's case was written about in Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt.  (CM) (Black Panthers) (Murder: An Analysis of its Forms)

Bristol County, MA 

Frank Grace

Aug 8, 1972

Frank Grace, a Black Panther leader in New Bedford, was convicted of the shooting death of Marvin Morgan, a 19-year-old drug addict. Grace maintained that police framed him because he was a political radical. Grace's conviction was overturned after new witnesses came forward and old witnesses recanted. Prosecutors declined to retry him because they no longer had any witnesses.  (CIPM) (ISI)  [11/05]

 Cook County, IL

Haymarket Eight

May 4, 1886

Eight men were convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the death of police officer Mathias J. Degan. On May 1, 1886 there were general strikes throughout the United States in support of an 8-hour workday. On May 3 there was a rally of striking workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant in Chicago. This rally ended with police firing on the workers. Two workers died although some newspaper accounts reported six fatalities.
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Norfolk County, MA 

Sacco & Vanzetti

Apr 15, 1920

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were convicted of shooting two men to death while robbing a company of its $15,000 payroll. Both defendants were political anarchists and the case against them garnered international attention. The case against the two was weak, particularly against Vanzetti who had 44 alibi witnesses. However, both were convicted and the two were executed in the electric chair on Aug 23, 1927. On Aug 23, 1977, Gov. Dukakis declared Aug 23, “Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti Memorial Day,” and issued a proclamation exonerating the two.  (CIPM) (Famous Trials)  [11/05]

Shannon County, SD 

Leonard Peltier

June 26, 1975 (Oglala)

(Federal Case)  In Feb. 1973, 200 American Indian Movement (AIM) activists launched a 72-day occupation of Wounded Knee, SD (Site of an 1890 American Indian massacre) to protest living conditions at the Pine Ridge reservation. During the next three years, the FBI carried out intensive local surveillance, as well as the repeated arrests, harassment, and bad-faith legal proceedings against AIM leaders and supporters. In 1975, two FBI agents entered the reservation and with tensions being high managed to provoke a firefight between themselves and local Indians. Both FBI agents as well as Indians were killed. To avenge the death of the two agents, the government issued arrest warrants against four men, including Leonard Peltier. It dropped charges against one and tried two, but during the trial a key prosecution witness admitted that he had been threatened by the FBI and as a result had changed his testimony upon the agents' instructions, so as to support the government's position. The two defendants were acquitted.

Peltier was in Canada and to get him extradited the government submitted an affidavit from a mentally unstable woman who claimed to have been Peltier's girlfriend, and to have been present during the shootout, and to have witnessed the murders. In fact, she did not know Peltier, nor was she present at the time of the shooting. She later confessed she had given the false statement after being pressured and terrorized by FBI agents. At Peltier's trial, the government withheld thousands of documents. It presented coerced witnesses; though none placed Peltier at the murder scene before the murders occurred or claimed Peltier shot the two agents. Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences.

Peltier's case is detailed in In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, a 1983 bestseller, and in Incident at Oglala, a documentary produced by Robert Redford.  (www.leonardpeltier.net) (AJ) (Famous Trials)  [6/05]

Salt Lake County, UT 

Joe Hill

Jan 10, 1914

“Just before 10 pm on the night of 10 January, 1914, John Morrison, a Salt Lake City, Utah, grocer and a former policeman, was closing his store with his two sons, Arling and Merlin. Two men wearing red bandannas forced their way into the store. One of the intruders shouted 'we've got you now', levelled a handgun and shot Morrison. Arling Morrison grabbed his father's old service revolver and fired two shots at the masked men, who returned fire and fled the scene. Merlin, the younger child, stayed hidden in the back of the store.”
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