[Ppnews] Chicago - Freeman Deal - Family friends witness `a bit of history'

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Feb 23 12:43:27 EST 2008

Family friends witness `a bit of history'

Star writer among those sighing with relief as 
Chicago judge accepts plea in 1969 shooting

Feb 23, 2008 04:30 AM
Morgan Campbell
toronto star

CHICAGO–The prosecution wanted the deal. In fact, they proposed it.

Gary Freeman wanted the deal, knowing the deal 
would free him in less than a month.

And the six of us, friends and relatives who 
travelled from Toronto for the hearing, who now 
lined the wall at the back of a small courtroom in Chicago?

We held our breath, just like the rest of Gary 
Freeman's family and friends have been doing since his arrest in July of 2004.

In 1969, Freeman, then known as Pannell, had been 
charged with attempted murder in the shooting of 
police officer Terrence Knox on a street on the 
south side of Chicago. Knox says Pannell attacked 
him during a routine stop. Pannell says he acted in self-defence.

He fled to Canada in 1974, changed his name to 
Gary Freeman and raised four kids here before 
U.S. authorities teamed with the RCMP to track him down.

The case made headlines on both sides of the 
border and made public figures of a family I'd 
known since I was a teenager. I met Freeman 15 
years ago through his kids and, as I wrote in the 
Star three years ago, I love his family like I love my own.

If Judge Daniel Darcy agreed to the deal – a 
guilty plea to aggravated battery and a $250,000 
donation to a scholarship fund for the children 
of slain officers – then prosecutors would drop 
all other charges and sentence Freeman, who has 
already served six years in various jails, to 30 
days at Cook County. And on March 7, 39 years to 
the day after the shooting, Freeman would walk 
out of Cook County Jail and into his wife's arms 
for the first time in more than three years.

Darcy asked Knox, who was across the room, how he 
felt about the deal. Knox said he supported it.

Mere seconds elapsed but it felt much longer. I 
glanced at Freeman's wife, Terrie Coelho, saw the 
tension in her face. When Darcy said the deal 
looked good to him, I felt Coelho shudder. I 
heard her sigh, long and deep. I looked over and 
saw a small smile. She's been waiting to exhale for 42 months.

Those months in custody have changed Freeman, 
too. His hair, clipped short, had changed from 
black to grey. And while he's still fit, he's 
thinner than ever, his shoulders narrower and cheeks deeper.

All six of us – his wife, two of their daughters 
and three friends – visited him in jail Thursday.

At one point, he motioned me closer. I put my ear 
to the mesh covering the hole in the glass 
through which inmates and visitors speak.

"I hope you have your reporter's eyes on 
tomorrow," he said. "I think you're going to 
witness a bit of history." It's hard to imagine 
the guy who used to lend us books or lead us on 
long bike rides, in the middle of a historic 
court case, but his plea deal really does set a precedent.

Think for a minute about Medgar Evers, a 
civil-rights leader murdered in Mississippi in 
1964. A white supremacist named Byron De La 
Beckwith was convicted in that case 31 years later.

Think about the bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., 
church that killed four black girls in 1964. A 
white man named Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted in that crime in 2001.

And think about Joanne Chesimard, a black 
nationalist sentenced to life for a 1973 shooting 
that killed one New Jersey state trooper and 
wounded another. She now has political asylum in 
Cuba under the name Assata Shakur.

These cases are three of dozens of violent 
incidents, for decades unresolved, that sprouted 
from the racially charged climate that existed in 
the U.S. in the 1960s and '70s.

But Freeman's case is the only one with anything 
resembling a happy ending. De La Beckwith died in 
prison and so will Cherry. And Shakur's 
supporters know her freedom will last only as 
long as the U.S. embargo of Cuba does.

Freeman's deal makes his the only case with an 
ending that satisfies both sides and the only 
case in which everyone involved not only survives 
the incident but outlives the sentence. On March 
7, Gary Freeman will leave jail for good. Two 
years later his probation will expire and for the 
first time in 41 years there will be no warrants 
in his name, no sentences to serve and no charges 
pending. Two more years and for the first time in 
his life he'll truly be a free man.

Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110

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