It was his best court crowd in months, and Huey P. Newton was working it, clasping hands, kissing cheeks, nodding. There were more people than seats. Lawyer Sheldon Otis put his arm around Newton, smiled, and steered him toward the courtroom.
"Let's see how expensive your body is, man," he said.
Newton wore a black velvet jacket, shirt open at the collar, and he was quiet. There are plenty of legal matters concerning Newton, who is head of the Black Panther Party and faces charges of murder and assault, but yesterday morning he was addressing something else, something that has draped him for a long time - his image.
Thomas Orloff, the soft-spoken Alameda County prosecutor who is operating on the assumption that Newton is a menace to public safety, had asked that his bill be increased from $75,000 to $200,000. Orloff mentioned Santa Cruz, where Newton and his 400-pound companion, Robert Heard, who Newton says is not a bodyguard but a friend, were arrested May 11 for assault and illegal weapons possession after they allegedly shot up a bar.
Orloff also noted that Newton has jumped bail before - in 1974, when, accused on the murder charges now facing him, he fled to Cuba for three years. Prosecutor Orloff did not mention the sexual assault story that she been passed around Oakland this month.
But Newton's lawyer Otis did. Otis got up before Superior Court Judge Martin Pulich and said for half an hour that Huey Newton is being victimized by lies, that such a huge increase in bail amounts to prior punishment, that it is not true that Huey Newton recently forced a woman into a car at gunpoint, took her to West Oakland to sexually abuse her, and then threatened to kill her when she pressed charges.
"There is an air of hysteria that has been created in this community," Otis said, "deliberately designed to destroy Mr. Newton. It was started by the FBI." He said Newton had passed polygraph tests showing that he had not abducted the woman and that he had no plans to jump bail.
(The hysteria apparently reached Santa Cruz, as well. Authorities there will not release names of witnesses to the bar incident because some have reportedly been intimidated by threatening phone calls.)
"If he was going to jump, he would have jumped a long time ago," Otis said. Bail amounting to $125,000 has already been raised, when the $75,000 bail on the murder charge is added to the $50,000 bail following the Santa Cruz incident. Mrs. Newton now has exhausted resources not of his own, but from friends and those from whom he could scrounge up money," Otis said.
Judge Pulich was not impressed. He spoke of Newton's 1974 disappearance in which over $40,000 bail money was forfeited. "We find history repeating itself," he said. "The defendent will post an additional $75,000 cash bail."
There was a quick expulsion of breath in the courtroom. An elderly man about four rows back murmured. "Well, I'll be a son of a -----" Newton turned around in his chair, half his mouth lifted in a smile, and jerked his head toward his wife before he was taken to the coujty jail.
He spent 20 minutes there. A $75,000 bond arrived within an hour, courtesy of a San Francisco bail bonding agency, which declined to say where the collateral came from. Otis said it was from more friends and relatives.
And afterward, the Black Panther Party Intercommunal News Service, the party newspaper, was distributed on the front steps of the courthouse: "The relentless, nearly 12-year-old campaign of the U.S. government to discredit and destroy the Black Panther Party and its president and founder, Huey P. Newton, escalated here last week . . ."