cover image Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt

Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt

Jack Olsen. Doubleday Books, $27.5 (500pp) ISBN 978-0-385-49367-3

One part Kafka and one part Orwell, the story of Geronimo Pratt's conviction and imprisonment, for a murder committed while he was 350 miles away from the crime scene and under FBI surveillance, is a textbook case of abuse of the American criminal justice system for political ends. Raised in small-town Louisiana, Pratt served two distinguished stints in Vietnam (earning a Purple Heart) before becoming a leader of the Black Panthers in Los Angeles. Visible and articulate, he was targeted by the FBI's counterintelligence program--and soon was set up and convicted for a highly publicized 1968 Santa Monica murder. At trial, where he was represented by the now-famous Johnnie Cochran, evidence was suppressed (and later destroyed), witnesses were intimidated and perjury was suborned. His case became an international cause c l bre--but the details of Pratt's struggles have not, until now, been readily available. Olsen tells Pratt's story with a compelling narrative grace. Drawing from a mountain of court records and other documentary evidence--as well as on the memories of Pratt, his family and his lawyers (both Cochran and his young colleague, Stuart Hanlon)--Olsen takes us from the early days of Pratt's imprisonment, through his appeals, and up to the day when his conviction was finally overturned and he went free. (By then, he'd served more than 26 years in prison, several of them in solitary confinement.) Rigorously researched, skillfully organized and passionately written, the book lays bare long-obscured facts about Pratt's case, as well as ugly truths about the conditions of prison and a grave miscarriage of justice. (Sept.)