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Huey P. Newton Trial: 1968

Grand Jury Becomes Issue, Surprise Witness Surfaces, Jury Disappoints All, Two More Trials, Then A Dismissal

Defendant: Huey P. Newton
Crimes Charged: First-degree murder, felonious assault, and kidnapping
Chief Defense Lawyer: Charles R. Garry
Chief Prosecutor: Lowell Jensen
Judge: Monroe Friedman
Place: Oakland, California
Dates of Trial: July 15-September 8, 1968
Verdict: Guilty of voluntary manslaughter; not guilty of felonious assault; kidnapping charge dismissed
Sentences: 2-15 years

SIGNIFICANCE: While Huey P. Newton's 1968 case was technically a murder trial, it was also one of the most politically charged trials of its era. Defense attorney Charles Garry's use of the voir dire provided a model for choosing juries for racially and politically sensitive trials.

Before any evidence was heard, many Americans believed that Huey P. Newton, co-founder and "minister of defense" of the Black Panther Party, had murdered a police officer in cold blood. Others were equally certain that the charge was a trumped-up attempt to crush the militant Black Panther Party.

No group brought the racial tensions of the late 1960s into sharper focus than the Black Panther Party For Self Defense. The Panthers' political rhetoric and advocacy of armed self-defense against police brutality alarmed many citizens and brought down the aggressive wrath of police departments across the nation.

Just before dawn on October 28, 1967, Oakland police Officer John Frey radioed that he was about to stop a "known Black Panther vehicle," a van occupied by two men. A second officer, Herbert Heanes arrived on the scene. Minutes later, officers responding to a distress call found Frey bleeding to death and Heanes slumped in his car, seriously wounded. Police found Huey Newton at a nearby hospital with a bullet wound in his abdomen.

Newton was charged with murdering Frey, assaulting Heanes, and kidnapping a man whose car was commandeered for the dash to the hospital. While Newton recovered from his wound, his attorney, Charles Garry, began his defense with a systematic assault on the grand jury system.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972