Angela Davis, an American political activist, was arrested in October 1970 after a warrant was issued for her arrest on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder in connection with the death of Judge Harold Haley. On June 4, 1972, an all-white jury acquitted her of all charges after 16 months in prison and four months of trial proceedings.
Angela Davis was detained in New York City in connection with a shootout in a courthouse in San Rafael, California on August 7, 1970. She was accused of assisting and abetting Jonathan Jackson, who stormed the courtroom in an attempt to rescue inmates on trial and kidnap hostages in return for his brother George, a black radical imprisoned at San Quentin Prison.
Jonathan Jackson, Superior Court Judge Harold Haley, and two inmates were slain in the ensuing shoot-out with police. Davis was a renowned supporter of the Soledad Brothers, three criminals on trial for the murder of a prison guard at Soledad Prison on that particular day.
All persons involved in the commission of a crime, whether they actively commit the act constituting the offense or not, are considered principals in the crime under California law. Angela Davis had purchased several of the weaponry used in the attack, including the shotgun used to shoot Judge Haley, which she had purchased two days before the incident at a pawn shop in San Francisco. She was also discovered to be in contact with one of the detainees implicated.
Davis had fled California before her arrest in 1970. Her name was added to the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List. The third lady on the list was Angela Davis. For her role in the case, President Richard Nixon dubbed her a “dangerous terrorist.”
Her trial began in March 1972 and gained international attention due to the prosecution’s poor case and the proceedings’ clear political nature.
Angela Davis was represented by trial lawyer Leo Branton Jr., who engaged psychologists to assist the defense in determining which members of the jury pool could be sympathetic to their arguments, a strategy that has since grown increasingly frequent. He also enlisted the help of experts to debunk the veracity of eyewitness statements.
Davis was held in solitary confinement in the Women’s Detention Center, but she was able to get a federal court order to be moved out of the segregated area with the support of her legal team.
Davis was freed on bond from county jail 16 months after her incarceration. Rodger McAfee, a dairy farmer from Fresno, California, paid her $100,000 bail with the help of Steve Sparacino, a rich company owner. Some of her legal fees were paid for by the United Presbyterian Church.
Throughout the United States, tens of thousands of people launched a movement to free Davis. More than 200 local organizations in the United States and 67 in other countries were working to release Davis by February 1971. With their song Angela, peace activists John Lennon and Yoko Ono contributed to the effort.
After Davis’ legal team won another request, the trial was transferred to Santa Clara County. For a change of scenery, this time. The all-white jury reached a not guilty verdict on June 4, 1972, after 13 hours of discussion. The fact that she owned the guns used in the crime was deemed insufficient by the jury to prove her involvement in the scheme.
Angela Yvonne Davis is a self-described communist and former philosophy professor at the University of California. She is also a past director of the Feminist Studies Department at the university.
She rose to prominence as a counterculture activist in the 1960s, working with the Communist Party of the United States (which she remained a member of until 1991) and the Black Panther Party during the Civil Rights Movement. She is a co-founder of Critical Resistance, a group dedicated to ending the prison–industrial complex.
She is still active in activism, and she recently expressed her support for Sudanese demonstrators and activists whose efforts helped to depose ex-president Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years.