The Fred Hampton Murder Trial

In the summer of 1972, Hanrahan and his men, who had been indicted by a special state grand jury for obstruction of justice in the Hampton and Clark killings, went on trial before a Democratic machine judge, Philip Romiti. We had no illusions about what the result of this case would be, and Romiti duly did his part, entering a directed verdict for Hanrahan and his men. Only a week later, the Black community delivered a very different verdict as Hanrahan was defeated by Republican Bernard Carey in the State’s Attorney election.

Our own civil case against Hanrahan and the raiders had been assigned to a hostile judge, who had dismissed many of the claims before trial. The tide in the Fred Hampton case turned, however, after the Seventh Circuit restored Hanrahan as a defendant, and a separate prosecution of a rogue police officer revealed that William O’Neal, an original member of the Panthers who served as Fred’s bodyguard and who was a client of ours who had frequently visited our office and our houses, was in reality an FBI informant who had been intimately involved in setting up the Hampton raid and who had been reporting to the FBI all along.

Armed with this information, we began to pursue the FBI’s involvement in the murders. In conjunction with William Bender and the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Law Clinic, we subpoenaed documents, which revealed that O’Neal and the FBI had supplied a floor plan to Hanrahan’s men, which marked the bed on which Fred would be sleeping. We deposed O’Neal, his FBI contact and other FBI officials, and began to focus on the role of the FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) in the conspiracy to assassinate Fred. By this time another Northwestern Law student, Holly Hill, had joined the office and she, Flint, Jeff, Ralph, Peter Schmiedel (who had joined the office as a law student in 1972), were working with the Rutgers personnel and numerous volunteers on the Hampton case.

In November of 1975, we left the sausage factory and moved our offices downtown in anticipation of the impending Hampton trial, which began before Judge Sam Perry in January of 1976 . The office at the time consisted of Jeff and Flint, who were working full time on the trial; Peter, Pat Handlin and Chick Hoffman (who had joined the office in late 1975), and several volunteers. James Montgomery and Herb Reid were also active members of the Hampton trial team, and Dianne Rapaport and the December 4th Committee lent invaluable political and legal support.

Dennis took a break from Buffalo and dealing with the Attica trials to help during the first few months of the trial, during which it was revealed that the FBI had withheld 200 volumes of documents from us during discovery. In those volumes were documents, which established that the raid was part of the FBI COINTELPRO program designed to destroy the Panthers, and that O’Neal was paid a $300 bonus by the FBI for making the raid a “success.” While Jeff and Flint tried Hampton, everyone else hustled cases for money, and did as much Hampton work as possible, while we lived on $75 each per week.

The Hampton trial lasted for 18 months, with the judge attempting to block our evidence at every turn, finding Jeff and Flint in contempt several times, and displaying outright hostility towards us and the case. The jury eventually hung, and rather than ordering a retrial Judge Perry threw out the whole case and assessed $100,000 in costs against the plaintiffs. Now we would have to get that verdict reversed on appeal to the Seventh Circuit. To read more about our work on the Hampton case, click here: Hampton Appeal

History by Section

Early Days
The Murder of Fred Hampton
Government Surveillance
Representing the Panthers in Downstate Illinois
Attica New York Prison Riots
The Fred Hampton Murder Trial
Prisoner Rights Work
Puerto Rican Independence Movement and the Puerto Rican Community
Fred Hampton Appeal
George Jones Street Files and False Imprisonment
Representing Demonstrators, Protestors, and Activists
Puerto Rico Work Continues
Police Brutality and Torture
Continuing to Represent Demonstrators and Activists
The Attica Prison Civil Case
Continuing Work in Solidarity With Puerto Rico
Fighting the Death Penalty
Sexual Abuse Litigation and Illegal Strip Search
Back to the Supreme Court
The 1996 Democratic Convention
Policy and Practice Cases
False Arrests and Convictions
Continuing to Defend Dissent
Continuing the Fight for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases
Criminal Defense for Civil Rights Abuses
Jail Suicide
Opposing the Criminalization of the LGBTQ Community
People’s Law Office and The National Lawyers Guild