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Huey P. Newton Trial: 1968

Surprise Witness Surfaces

Garry's next witness stunned the courtroom. Gene McKinney was the man riding with Newton on October 28, but police had never learned his identity. After establishing that McKinney was Newton's passenger, Garry asked, "Did you by chance or otherwise shoot officer John Frey?"

McKinney refused to answer, citing the Fifth Amendment. Prosecutor Jensen furiously demanded that McKinney be forced to reply. Garry had skillfully managed to offer the jury a "reasonable doubt" that Newton had killed Frey. As Newton noted later, if Judge Friedman had then granted McKinney immunity, McKinney could have accepted the blame for Frey's death, freeing both himself and Newton without punishment. Instead, Judge Friedman cited McKinney for contempt and sent him immediately to jail.

When Newton took the stand, he calmly denied shooting Frey or Heanes. For nearly a full day, Garry's questions drew full descriptions of the aims of the Black Panther Party, the historical oppression of black Americans, and police brutality in the Oakland ghetto. The prosecution repeatedly objected that the lengthy answers were irrelevant.

Newton admitted using his own trial as a political forum, but the defense was also trying to establish a context in which to view Frey's harassment of Newton as typical police practice in the Oakland ghetto, particularly employed against members of the Black Panther Party.

Newton testified that he had correctly identified himself to officer Frey, who abusively ordered him out of the van. After searching Newton, Frey pushed him down the street to the parked police cars. When they stopped, Newton protested that the officer had no reasonable cause to arrest him, opening a lawbook he habitually carried. Newton claimed that Frey replied with a racial insult and a punch in the face. Newton fell. As he started to rise, Frey shot him in the stomach. Newton remembered little else after that.

Prosecutor Jensen read Newton's arrest records and political declarations, trying to portray the Black Panther minister of defense as a man fond of violence and guns. Newton responded by contending that police harassment had precipitated each arrest and expounded on the political theories in his writings.

In his summation, Jensen soberly concluded that the evidence showed Newton to be a violent man and, in this case, a murderer. Garry's summation was a broad, impassioned indictment of white racism, characterizing the trial as part of an attempt by the Oakland police to destroy Newton and the Black Panthers.

One day after the jurors began their deliberations, they asked to see the transcript of Henry Grier's initial statement to police. Garry noticed that someone had incorrectly transcribed that Grier "did" see Newton at the shooting, when Grier's voice on the police tape said that he "didn't." After a lengthy confrontation between the attorneys, Judge Friedman ordered the transcript corrected and sent into the jury room without any attached comment on the mistake.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Huey P. Newton Trial: 1968 - Grand Jury Becomes Issue, Surprise Witness Surfaces, Jury Disappoints All, Two More Trials, Then A Dismissal