What would the world give back to you? Always less than you gave. Those verses, from George Orwell's "Looking Back on the Spanish War," could be an epitaph for the life of Elmer Gerard "Geronimo" Pratt, though the man described in Last Man Standing likely would reject the sentiment. Few have had more cause to succumb to ineffaceable bitterness. Yet Mr. Pratt did not succumb, despite frequent and justifiable frustrations and extreme circumstance. His strength astonishes. Jack Olsen's book acquaints us with the details that circle around one iniquitous, censurable act: A decorated American soldier, veteran of the Vietnam War, was sent to prison for 25-to-life because the FBI, despite knowing his innocence, thought it a good way to neutralize his activity in Los Angeles as a prominent member of the Black Panther Party (an open-minded Black Panther too-in prison he and an Aryan Brotherhood co-founder became friends). Before being freed he spent twenty-seven years in the custody of the California Department of Corrections at places like Folsom and San Quentin, with many of those years in solitary confinement of a kind worse than just solitariness. He almost certainly would have died there had it not been for the persistence of people working on his behalf, most notably attorneys Stuart Hanlon and Johnnie Cochran. Their steadfastness is a marvel. In the end, it was a judge much recognized for his juridical conservatism, an ex-military, right-wing Republican appointed by Ronald Reagan, who determined it was in fact necessary to hear the facts that other judges would not. The judge was Everett Dickey, Superior Court Judge in California's Orange County. He is in this story a figure to admire not because his action benefited Geronimo Pratt but because he valued law more than law's violation and justice more than its miscarriage. One might hope that the FBI would have too. In this instance, a hope forsaken. An example of Judge Dickey's clear-sightedness can be seen when the prosecution insists that previous trial evidence brought against Pratt had been "overwhelming." Dickey dissents, pointing out that had the original jury shared that view it would not have needed ten days to deliberate. It is no small matter that the FBI could be so little troubled that the victims of the crime for which Mr. Pratt was convicted were ill served, as was the public. This is not to say Pratt was a peaceable man at that time. But the men who committed the crime remained free to be a threat to others. That was one price paid to incarcerate Geronimo Pratt. The murdered woman, Caroline Olsen, deserved better justice. As did the man imprisoned. As did their families and their friends. As do we all. The author can get long mired in detail but his willingness to risk our impatience rather than condense the story is the correct choice. My only criticism is that we must accept quite a bit of what he writes as true without the details of sources customary in more scholarly works. But as his book is the narrative of a nightmare rather than a work of scholarship, few readers, I expect, will feel compelled to complain.
Last Man Standing : The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt
Arrives by Thursday, Aug 20
About This Item
Geronimo Pratt did not commit the murder for which he served twenty-seven nightmarish years. As a UCLA student, though, he had led the Los Angeles Chapter of the Black Panther Party, and became a target of the FBI. Here is the spellbinding saga of Pratt, his heroic lawyers, Johnnie Cochran and Stuart Hanlon, and the Reverend James McCloskey, who overcame all the odds to bring the truth to light and free Geronimo.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
|Number of Pages|
Last Man Standing
|Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)|
8.00 x 5.10 x 1.10 Inches
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