On May 29, 1970, the California Court of Appeals reversed Newton’s conviction because of Judge Friedman’s incomplete instructions to the jury. The judge erred by not giving jurors the option of convicting Newton of involuntary manslaughter, a charge consistent with his claim that he was disoriented and unconscious after Officer John Frey shot him.
After nearly two years in prison, Huey P. Newton is free.
Newton, founder and Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, was released Wednesday on $50,000 bail while awaiting a new trial on charges stemmin from the shooting of an Oakland Policeman in 1967.
Convicted in September of 1968 of voluntary manslaughter, Newton was serving a two to fifteen year sentence in a California penal farm. However, the conviction was overturned by the California Court of Appeals on May 29 on the grounds that the trial judge had failed properly to instruct the jury.
The judge had neglected to tell the jurors that if Newton’s contention that he had been wounded and unconscious at the time of the crime was true then he could not be found guilty of the shooting.
The appeals court added that it was “reasonably probable” that, had this been pointed out to the jury, Newton might have received a more favorable verdict.
The State Supreme Court upheld the reversal last week and ordered Newton released on bail.
Bail hearing took only 16 minutes Wednesday. After the Court denied a motion by Charles R. Garry, Newton’s lawyer for bail reduction, another defense lawyer deposited a $50,000 cashier’s check.
In denying the motion, the judge pointed out that Eldridge Cleaver, Minister of Information of the BPP, had posted an identical bond before fleeing to exile in Algiers.
Flanked by David Hilliard, Panther Chief of Staff, Newton emerged from the courthouse to mingle with hundreds of Panther supporters who had been gathering in the street outside since 7 a.m.
As the crowd surged into the street and blocked traffic, Newton climbed on top of a car, stripped off his grey prison uniform shirt, and shouted, “You have the power and the power is with the people.”
He then left for a reunion with his family.
Newton faces a new trial for manslaughter beginning Sept. 25.
Newton had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon for repeatedly stabbing another man, Odell Lee, with a steak knife in mid-1964. He served six months in prison and by October 27–28, 1967, he was out celebrating release from his probationary period. Just before dawn on October 28, Newton and a friend were pulled over by Oakland Police Department officer John Frey. Realizing that he had stopped Black Panther leader Huey Newton, Frey called for backup. After fellow officer Herbert Heanes arrived, shots were fired, and all three were wounded. Heanes testified that the shooting began after Newton was under arrest, and one witness testified that Newton shot Frey with Frey’s own gun as they wrestled. No gun on either Frey or Newton was found. Newton stated that Frey shot him first, which made him lose consciousness during the incident. Frey was shot four times and died within the hour, while Heanes was left in serious condition with three bullet wounds. Black Panther David Hilliard took Newton to Oaklands’s Kaiser Hospital, where he was admitted with a bullet wound to the abdomen. Newton was soon handcuffed to his bed and arrested for Frey’s killing. Newton was convicted in September 1968 of voluntary manslaughter for the killing of Frey and was sentenced to 2 to 15 years in prison.
In May 1970, the California Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. After two subsequent trials ended in hung juries, the district attorney said he would not pursue a fourth trial, and the Alameda County Superior Court dismissed the charges. In his autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, Newton wrote that Heanes and Frey were opposite each other and shooting in each other’s direction during the shootout.