Closing a bloody chapter in California history, Marin County Dist. Atty. Jerry Herman said Friday that he will not refile charges against “San Quentin Six” co-defendant Johnny L. Spain for participating in a 1971 prison escape attempt.
Spain, a former Black Panther now free on bail to lecture college students and counsel troubled youths, had his double-murder conviction overturned by a federal appeals court because he was shackled before the jury during his 204-day trial in 1976.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused a prosecution appeal to reinstate one conspiracy and two murder convictions produced in that trial. Prosecutors had 90 days to set a new trial date to retry the case.
“Since this case is now 19 years old, and since the defendant Spain has now been out of custody and led a crime-free life for three years, it is impossible to believe that a conviction secured after a retrial would result in the defendant Spain being resentenced to prison,” he told the Associated Press.
Spain, 40, has actually been out of prison since March, 1988, when a judge ordered the state parole board to ignore the San Quentin melee when deciding whether Spain was suitable for parole from a 1967 murder conviction.
Herman said the widows and families of three prison guards who were killed in the incident, and three other guards who survived after their throats were cut “support our decision not to retry the case.”
Inmate George Jackson, author of the book “Soledad Brother,” also died in the incident, which authorities said began when Jackson used a smuggled gun to try to escape from the prison’s isolation unit.
Spain, then serving a life sentence for a Los Angeles murder committed when he was 17, was one of six inmates accused of plotting the escape. They became known as the “San Quentin Six.” Prosecutors did not suspect Spain himself of killing anyone during the brief revolt.