Geronimo Pratt, also known as Geronimo Ji-Gaga, was a high-ranking leader in the Black Panther Party who served 27 years in prison on a wrongful conviction. Pratt was born on this day in 1947, ironically the day that his godson, Tupac Shakur, died in a Las Vegas hospital.
Pratt born in Morgan City, Louisiana, and was a star quarterback at Sumpter Williams High School. Pratt then entered the U.S. Army and served two tours in the Vietnam War earning several medals and achieving the rank of sergeant. After leaving the service, he relocated to Los Angeles and entered UCLA to study political science. It was then when Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins of the Panthers recruited him.
The Panthers became one of the most prominent Black organizations in America and were perceived as a threat by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover’s direction. According to several accounts, infiltrators groomed by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program killed Carter and Huggins which led to Pratt’s promotion to the position of Deputy Minister of Defense.
COINTELPRO also aimed their sights at Pratt and in 1968, he wa arrested for the murder of 27-year-old elementary school teacher Caroline Olsen. Although Pratt’s attorney, the late Johnnie Cochran, said his client was hundreds of miles away during the crime, investigators took the testimony of police informant Julius Butler at face value.
In 1972, Pratt was convicted and served eight of his 27 years in solitary confinement.
After years of studying law and filing for appeals, Pratt was finally delivered justice on June 10, 1997 when his conviction was vacated due to concealed evidence that could have influenced the trial. After leaving prison on July 24 that year, Pratt returned to his hometown to be near his elderly mother.
In 1998, Cochran filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI and the LAPD for the wrongful conviction, which was settled for $4.5 million. Pratt took up the cause of speaking on behalf of the wrongfully imprisoned including supporting figures such as imprisoned Philadelphia Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Pratt was living in Tanzania at the time of his death from heart attack in 2011.
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