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'Geronimo' Pratt, Black Panther leader, dies

June 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a former Black Panther Party leader, has died at the age of 63.

A vigil was held Friday in Leimert Park in memory of Pratt, who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he claimed he did not commit. He was finally released in 1997 when his conviction was overturned.

Pratt died Friday in Imbaseni village, about 15 miles from Arusha, Tanzania, where he lived for at least half a decade.

Pratt's name and his long-fought case became emblematic of a tumultuous era in American history.

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.

Pratt, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, said he was innocent and said 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.

Although the Panthers were associated with violence, they also established free breakfast programs for poor children, health clinics and pest-control services for those who needed them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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