The murder trial of Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton ended today in a mistrial, with the jurors deadlocked 10 to 2 for acquittal.
Alameda County prosecutor Tom Orloff said he did not know whether the district attorney's office would order a new trial for Newton, who was accused of killing a 17-year-old prostitute in August 1974.
Newton's attorney, Michael Kennedy, in a brief news conference on the courthouse steps, said the two guilty votes "represent fear and loathing in Oakland," and that Newton did not believe he would be retried.
"I think it primarily rests on the people of Alameda County as to whether or not they want this farce to go on," Kennedy said.
The jury, with one black member, deliberated for 24 hours over four days before returning to the Oakland courtroom to tell Superior Court Judge Carl Anderson their deadlock was hopeless. They looked grim and worn as they passed the defendant, who stood with his stands folded before him to watch them.
An hour earlier, Newton had waited outside the locked courtroom door, his eyes red-rimmed and his speech slurred, and said while gazing directly at a white reporter, "Let you get charged, and you get 11 blacks up there and one white. You'll be screaming for the American embassy . . . This is the biggest farce I've ever seen. Anybody else in the world would have been acquitted."
Newton must return to court next week to face contempt charges for refusing to testify about how he got to Cuba as a fugitive from justice in 1974 and who helped him get there.
As he was driven away from the courthouse, he declared, "I've been vindicated by the community, and that's what important to me in the first place."
Kennedy charged that just before deliberations began on Wednesday afternoon, one of the three alternate jurors passed a note reading "Go hang him" to a regular juror who cast one of the guilty votes. The matter was brought to Judge Anderson when a third juror reported having seen the note passing, but Anderson let it stand, Kennedy said.Orloff would not confirm nor deny the note passing, but said Anderson was satisfied that nothing had happened to affect the jury.
It was the fourth time in nine years that criminal charges against the 37-year-old Newton have ended in a hung jury. When he was released from prison in 1970, after a reversal of his conviction in the manslaughter shooting of an Oakland police officer, two trials on the same charge ended in deadlocked juries (the case was finally dropped); later, he was accused of assaulting an Oakland disc jockey, and that trial ended in deadlock.
This trial opened quietly, with a small contingent of Newton supporters, a few curious spectators, and a firm but brief outdoor news conference in which Newton denounced the mostly white jury and said the conspiracy against him would be fully exposed.
It ended Wednesday afternoon, with a wild, dime-store novel flourish: Joanne West, a prostitute missing ever since the shooting was arrested in Los Angeles and forced into the Oakland courtroom to describe a man with a gun who had harassed her that night in 1974, two blocks away from the cornor where 17-year-old Kathleen Smith was shot. A few weeks after the shooting, West had identified the gunman by selecting a mug shot of Newton. But now, asked to pick out the person in court who looked most like that man, she got up from the witness chair, passed the table where Newton was sitting, and pointed at one of the spectators, a former defense witness who is white.
During the intervening weeks, as the testimony grew increasingly tangled, Newton presented for the first time an alibi backed by two witnesses: Donald Freed, a Los Angeles-based writer and co-author with Newton of various books and essays; and Gwen Newton, the defendant's wife. Both testified that Newton had worked with them through the night when Kathleen Smith was shot. Defense attorney Kennedy sought to pin the murder on one of the chief prosecution witnesses. And the other chief prosecution eyewitness, a 20-year-old former prostitute named Michelle Jenkins, walked into the courtroom when the trail was almost over to announce that her testimony has been filled with lies.
The mistrial came more than 4 1/2 years after Smith was shot on the Oakland street corner where she stood, just outside a liquor store.
Newton was charged with the shooting on Aug. 17, 1974, after surrendering to Oakland police on a charge of assaulting his tailor; a week later, he failed to show up for a bail hearing and surfaced in Cuba. He had left, Newton said later, because the charges against him were so clearly phony that it was obvious the police had become desperate and, he said, because pimps and prostitutes had been offered $10,000 to kill him.
The flight to Cuba, like much of the defendant's behavior over the last 10 years, became part of the substance of this trial as Kennedy and prosecutor Orloff worked for two weeks to paint portraits of two very different Newtons.
He was a battered, frightened political activist, argued Kennedy-"at this point, I think we can say, paranoid." Backed by Newton's comfortable, ususally articulate recollection of his own history, the defense began to recreate a Huey P. Newton whose name took on such celebrity during the 1960s that leftist Europeans and J. Edgar Hoover knew who he was: self-taught philosopher, street protector of harassed black citizens, founder and chief theoretician of the Black Panther Party.
And long-time enemy, Newton told the jury over and over, of the Oakland police. Newton's defenders had said it last autumn, when the tailor Newton was supposed to have assaulted refused to testify against him; they had said it ever since his first public appearance with the shotgun and lawbook he brandished as joint weapons against the police. Heuy Percy Newton was a marked man in this city, they said, and prosecutors would do anything-including building a case on the most flimsy evidence-to get him.
Orloff, who is two years younger than Newton and was a second-year law student during that famous 1968 police shooting trial, agreed the defendant had been paranoid. But he was a paranoid bully, Orloff argued, a man so volatile, and so filled with his own self-importance, that the casual dismissal of a 17-year-old prostitute could enrage him enough to kill. CAPTION: Picture, Newton and wife Gwen talk to reporters after mistrial was declared in Oakland; AP