At 63, Pratt had spent almost half of his life in prison after being set up by the FBI as part of the COINTELPRO campaign against the Black Panther Party. He was wrongfully convicted in 1972 for the 1970 robbery and slaying of schoolteacher Caroline Olsen, 27, in Santa Monica, even though he had been in Oakland attending a BPP meeting at the time of the murder. The key witness was later proven to be an ex-felon and police informant who had misrepresented himself, and Pratt was released from prison in 1997.
During his lengthy incarceration, Pratt became a symbol of the turbulent 1960s, and he gained the support of activists and politicians including former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, then-Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Oakland), the NAACP, Amnesty International and many others.
"What happened to him is the horror story of the United States," (Attorney Stuart) Hanlon said Friday. "This became a microcosm of when the government decides what's politically right or wrong. The COINTELPRO program was awful. He became a symbol for what they did."
Pratt was born Sept. 13, 1947, in Morgan City, La., a small town about two hours from New Orleans. The youngest of seven children, Pratt was raised as a Roman Catholic by his mother and his father, who operated a small scrap-metal business.
"He had Southern, rural roots, hardworking parents who sent all of their kids to college," Hanlon said. "He goes to the military, fights and is a decorated soldier in Vietnam, comes back, becomes a football star in college.
"That would be an American hero," Hanlon said of Pratt's life up to that point. "It was different because he was black and he became a Panther and then the road went the wrong way."
Hanlon said Pratt had been spending half his time in the small Tanzanian village of Imbaseni and the other half in Louisiana. When asked why he chose to spend so much of his time on another continent, Hanlon said, "I think he felt he had tasted the worst America could give and it wasn't very good."
-Inside Bay Area
Meanwhile, Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop caught on multiple videos murdering Oscar Grant at an Oakland train station, will be getting out of county jail less than a year after he was convicted of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter.