Geronimo Pratt was born Elmer Pratt on September 13, 1947, in Morgan City, Louisiana. He was one of six siblings born to Jack and Eunice Pratt. His parents owned a small scrap metal salvaging business. While growing up, Pratt valued his education and was an excellent student. He was also a good athlete. He was the quarterback for his high school football team.
In 1965, 18-year-old Pratt joined the U.S. Army. He was sent to Vietnam, serving two terms with distinctions. He earned two Bronze Stars, a Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts. In 1968, he received an honorable discharge.
Upon his return from Vietnam, Pratt moved to Los Angeles, California. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he attended UCLA. While attending school, he met Alprentice 'Bunchy' Carter, the leader of the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). After Bunchy was murdered in 1969, Pratt decided to join the BPP.
Black Panther Party
Upon joining the BPP, Pratt was declared the minister of defense and head of the Los Angeles chapter. Now affiliated with a political party that was deemed a threat to national security, Pratt became a target. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its counterintelligence, surveillance, and distribution program, COINTELPRO, kept a close eye on Pratt.
Shortly after joining the BPP, Pratt fell victim to COINTELPRO. Officials accused him of the 1968 murder of schoolteacher, Caroline Olsen. Olsen was shot and killed during a robbery in Santa Monica.
, who was on Pratt's legal team, argued that Pratt was 350 miles away attending a BPP meeting during the time of the murder. Despite this fact and the fact that Olsen's husband had previously identified the actual shooter, Pratt was found guilty. His guilty verdict can be largely attributed to the supposed witness testimony of Julius 'Julio' Butler.
Pratt was sentenced to 27 years in prison. Eight of those years were spent in solitary confinement. Cochran worked tirelessly to ensure that Pratt saw justice. In 1996, he was granted a new trial and was released in 1997. The presiding judge overturned the ruling because the L.A. district attorney's office failed to inform the original jury that Julio Butler was a paid FBI informant.
Pratt also won a wrongful imprisonment suit and was awarded $4.5 million. Upon his release, he devoted his life to lobbying for those who had been wrongfully incarcerated. In his later years, he moved to Tarzana, California with the daughter of former BPP members Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver. There, Geronimo Pratt died on June 2, 2011. He was 63 years old.
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