Was Fred Hampton Executed? | The Nation


Was Fred Hampton Executed?

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Why didn't Hampton get out of bed and try to resist? Photographs of his blood-soaked mattress make it obvious that he did not. According to the independent Commission of Inquiry, headed by NAACP chief Roy Wilkins and former Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark, there are strong indications that he had been drugged. About three hours before the shooting, at 1:30 A.M. Hampton was in bed talking to his mother on the telephone, when he fell asleep in mid-conversation. Deborah Johnson tried to rouse him but failed. During the raid others tried to wake him, but his only movement was to raise his head briefly. And, of course, the sound of gunfire is not usually conducive to sleep.

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The day after the raid, the Cook County coroner performed the first of four official autopsy examinations. It "failed to show the presence of barbiturates." Later postmortems by the coroner's office, the FBI and a federal grand jury also failed to turn up any trace of barbiturates. However, an independent autopsy and blood analysis which were performed at the request of the Hampton family by Dr. Victor Levine, former chief pathologist for the Cook County coroner's office, and Dr. Eleanor Berman, a toxicologist and acting director of the Department of Biochemistry at Cook County Hospital, found a potentially lethal quantity of drugs in Fred Hampton's bloodstream -- a dosage which, at the least, would have induced a coma.

The Commission of Inquiry attempted to resolve these differences. It consulted experts who concluded that technical errors had been made during the official autopsies. The scientists found no reason to reject the Berman-Levine verdict.

With up to nine informants inside the Panthers, including the resourceful William O'Neal, the FBI had ample opportunity to have the chairman drugged. Informant Maria Fisher has asserted in a signed statement to the Chicago Daily News that one week before the killings, local FBI chief Marlin Johnson asked her to slip Hampton a colorless and taste-less drug which would put him to sleep so that the FBI could raid the apartment. She says that when she refused, Johnson told her she was "being very foolish."

O'Neal has admitted in a deposition that he was in Hampton's apartment on December 3, but his memory is hazy as to the precise time. A criminal associate of his testified under oath, in another case, that, one time when he and O'Neal were high on marijuana, O'Neal said that the raid on the Panthers was unnecessary because he had drugged Hampton the night of the assault.

Robert Piper, a defendant and the FBI agent in charge of the "Racial Matters" squad in Chicago throughout 1968-9, admitted on the stand that the Black Panthers had broken no laws and had never been prosecuted locally. He testified that the FBI's sole purpose was to harass the group and contribute to its breakup.

Within months of the raid, a federal grand jury roundly criticized the police, but offered no indictments. Panther attorney G. Flint Taylor provided an explanation when he stated in court: "I have a document from the government showing that there was a deal that there would be no indictments [of Hanrahan and the police] in return for Hanrahan's dropping of indictments [against the survivors of the raid].

Because of rising anger in Chicago's black community at the failure to indict any law-enforcement officials, Joseph Power, Chief Judge of the Cook County Criminal Court, established a special county grand jury on June 27, 1970. Barnabas Sears, a prominent Chicago lawyer, was appointed special prosecutor and promised a free hand in investigating the affair.

Rumors began making the rounds in late April 1971 that indictments against Hanrahan and other police officials were imminent. But when the grand jury handed Power an envelope containing the indictments, the judge sought to prevent their return by refusing to open the envelope. The matter was resolved on August 24 by a unanimous opinion from the seven-man Illinois State Supreme Court that "the interests of justice would best be served by opening the indictment and proceeding pursuant to the law." The indictments against Hanrahan and thirteen others for conspiracy to obstruct justice in the investigation that followed the raid were finally made public. Still, no one was held accountable for the deaths of Hampton and Clark.

The obstruction of justice case went to trial on July 10, 1972, with Cook County Criminal Court Judge Philip Romiti presiding without a jury. At the close of the prosecution's case, defense attorneys for Hanrahan and the police moved for an acquittal on the ground that not enough evidence had been presented to convict. The judge granted the motion.

Against this backdrop, the civil suit began on January 5, 1976. Now the familiar court-room roles have been reversed--never before have the Black Panthers been the plain-tiffs, with law-enforcement officials the defendants. Judge Joseph Sam Perry is on the bench. In November 1975, lawyers for the plaintiffs asked for his removal on the ground that at the age of 79, Perry is too old and too deaf to function competently. He has given credence to these objections by several times falling asleep in court. Attorneys for the victims also contend that he is unable to understand the complexities of the case.

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