Was Fred Hampton Executed? | The Nation


Was Fred Hampton Executed?

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One of Perry's first rulings was to eliminate many defendants from the suit, including Mayor Daley; former Police Chief James Conlisk, Cook County; the estate of J. Edgar Hoover, and seven officials of the FBI or Justice Department. The judge also dismissed complaints against Hanrahan and his assistants, but was overruled on appeal.

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Although the Northern District of Illinois has a 31 per cent black population, only 6 per cent of the 400 prospective jurors were black. Panther attorneys watched helplessly as one of their best prospects disqualified herself with an honest answer. When asked if she could judge the word of an FBI agent without prejudice, the prospective juror re-plied, "Judge, to tell you the truth, with all I've been reading recently about them, I think I would find it difficult." Ultimately, one elderly black woman ended up on the six-person jury.

At the start, Perry told prospective jurors that both sides have agreed "there was a gun battle." If that had been true, there would be no civil suit. The basis of the plaintiffs' case is that only one bullet, and perhaps none at all, was fired at police, and that conclusion is endorsed by the federal grand jury and the Commission of Inquiry's report, Search and Destroy. Calling this a gun battle is like calling the assassination of Martin Luther King a duel.

Lawyers for both sides feel that Perry committed a reversible error by delaying the enforcement of Panther subpoenas for FBI files until two days before the trial opened. Up to then Perry had declared FBI files inadmissible unless they mentioned the name of Hampton or Clark, his explanation being that "the Black Panther Party is not on trial here." The judge has since conceded that his mistake on the Panther subpoenas, and a second blunder, have been responsible for greatly prolonging the proceedings. Perry's second error was to give the defense a free hand in deleting "irrelevant" information from the files.

In January, Richard Held, then head of the FBI's Chicago field office and now an associate director of the bureau, was served with a subpoena, signed by Perry, calling for all FBI documents relevant to the case. Held appointed FBI Agent Robert Piper, a defendant in the case, and some fifteen agents working under him, to make deletions from these files. Justice Department lawyers repeatedly assured the court that the order to deliver all relevant material had been complied with. However, in mid-March, during testimony from defendant Roy Mitchell, it came out that 90 percent of the file had been withheld. This included 130 volumes of information, a stack of papers 30 feet high. Mitchell let that cat out of the bag when he referred to a document that Panther attorneys had never seen.

Immediately, lawyers for the plaintiffs called for contempt citations against seven Justice Department and FBI officials, including defense attorneys Kanter and Kwoka, and FBI agents Piper and Held. Complaints by Roy Wilkins and an open letter from two Illinois state legislators prompted Attorney General Levi to appoint Assistant US Attorney Charles Kocoras to head an inquiry into the matter of the hidden documents. This choice was criticized because Kocoras had prosecuted a case in which FBI informant O'Neal and Agent Mitchell were the main government witnesses. Lawyer Taylor called the selection of Kocoras "like naming John Mitchell to investigate Watergate."

Kocoras was soon replaced by another Assistant US Attorney, Stephen Kadison. An aide to Kadison told the authors that, although plaintiffs' lawyers and FBI agents have been among those interviewed, the probe is an internal Justice Department matter, and that the findings may not be revealed publicly. After seven months, no conclusions have been announced.

The dispute over the documents placed the Hampton case on the front pages of the lo-cal papers for one of the few times during the trial. Because of this, Perry agreed to a plea from defense attorney Camilio Volini that the jury be polled to determine if any member was aware of the controversy. During the polling, one juror pulled a clipping of a Chicago Daily News story from her purse. The judge immediately stopped the canvassing process because it could, in his words, "lay the ground for a mistrial."

At the next court session Volini reiterated his motion to poll. In a surprise move, the Panther lawyers joined in the request, probably the only time both sides have agreed on anything. As all ten lawyers converged on the bench arguing in favor of the motion, the overwhelmed judge shouted, "Just leave me alone!" Perry regained his composure in time to deny the motion, saying, "I have confidence that this jury is not going to be influenced by a few headlines. The court disagrees with all parties, and I happen to be the final word."

Perry then announced to the jury that it was his fault, not the defendants', that the case was being delayed because of the withheld documents. Defense attorneys were stunned when the judge took the blame for what appeared to be suppression of vital in-formation by the defendants.

In mid-April Panther lawyers renewed their call for a mistrial, this time asking for a de-fault judgment because of "wholesale deceit, bad faith, and manipulation of evidence by the FBI defendants and the US Attorney's Office." Perry stated hat he would delay a ruling on the motion until the end of the trial.

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