Leo Branton Jr. | Angela Davis lawyer, 91

Posted: April 28, 2013

Leo Branton Jr., 91, a lawyer who helped successfully defend Angela Davis in a sensational 1972 murder case, died of natural causes April 19 in Los Angeles, his son, Tony Nicholas, told the Los Angeles Times.

Mr. Branton, the only black graduate in Northwestern University's 1948 law school class, had decades of civil rights law experience when he became co-lead defense counsel at Davis' trial.

Davis gained national attention in 1969 when she was fired as a University of California, Los Angeles professor for being a member of the Communist Party.

The next year, she was charged in an armed takeover of a Marin County courtroom. A 17-year-old smuggled guns into the San Rafael courtroom and armed three black convicts. They tried to drive away with a judge, prosecutor, and three jurors as hostages. Police opened fire and in the melee the judge, the teenager, and two of the convicts died.

Davis was charged with murder, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy because she had bought the smuggled guns - including a shotgun that had been taped to the judge during the escape attempt.

She fled and was placed on the FBI's 10 most wanted list. After her arrest, the case became a cause celebre. She claimed the guns had been stolen from her, and eventually was acquitted. Mr. Branton was instrumental in the decision, Davis told the Times on Thursday.

Mr. Branton had been involved in civil rights cases dating to the late 1940s. He helped singer Nat King Cole integrate the Los Angeles neighborhood of Hancock Park, defended Communists in the McCarthy era, and won police-misconduct cases. He also was an entertainment lawyer who represented the Platters, Miles Davis, and Richard Pryor. - AP

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