LOS ANGELES (AP) — Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a former Black Panther Party leader who spent 27 years in prison on a California murder conviction that was later overturned, has died at the age of 63 in his adopted home of Tanzania.
Pratt died early today at home in Imbaseni village, 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Arusha, Tanzania, where he had lived for at least half a decade, said a friend in Arusha, former Black Panther Pete O'Neal.
Pratt's name and his long-fought case with its political backdrop became emblematic of a tumultuous era in American history when the beret-wearing Panthers raised their fists in defiance and carried big guns, striking fear in white America.
The party, founded by Huey Newton in Oakland, Calif., in 1966, was targeted by late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in a program which sent infiltrators into their gatherings and recruited informants. One of them, Julius Butler, was the key witness against Pratt when he was charged in 1968 with the Santa Monica tennis court shooting of school teacher Caroline Olson.
Pratt, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, said he was innocent and maintained there were audiotapes that would prove he had been at a Black Panther meeting in Oakland the day of the killing. His lawyers later said that FBI agents and police hid and possibly destroyed wiretap evidence from the meeting which they had under surveillance.