Elmer G. “Geronimo” Pratt, a former Los Angeles Black Panther Party leader who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit and whose case became a symbol of racial injustice during the turbulent 1960s, has died. He was 63.
Pratt died at his home in a small village in Tanzania, where he had been living with his wife and child, according to Stuart Hanlon, a San Francisco attorney who helped overturn Pratt’s murder conviction. Hanlon said he was informed of the death by Pratt’s sister.
Pratt’s case became a cause celebre for elected officials, Amnesty International, clergy and celebrities who believed he was framed by the government because he was African American and a member of the Black Panthers.
“Geronimo was a powerful leader,” Hanlon told The Times. “For that reason he was targeted.”
Pratt was convicted in 1972 and sentenced to life in prison for the 1968 fatal shooting of Caroline Olsen and the serious wounding of her husband, Kenneth, in a robbery that netted $18. The case was overturned in 1997 by an Orange County Superior Court judge who ruled that prosecutors at Pratt’s murder trial had concealed evidence that could have led to his acquittal.