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Leo Branton Jr., famed lawyer for Angela Davis, dies at 91

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 5/6/2013, 4:17 p.m.

But it was his defense of Angela Davis in 1972 that gave him the cache that has marked his place forever in the memories of political activists. Davis, a professor at UCLA, had already been in the public spotlight following her dismissal from the college because of her membership in the Communist Party. But her notoriety was boosted considerably when she was implicated in a shootout in a courtroom in San Rafael during a failed attempt by a young Jonathan Jackson to rescue his brother from prison.

The guns used in the incident were traced to Davis, thereby linking her to the crime and forcing her to flee custody. For seven months she was a fugitive before being apprehended and brought to trial. And that's when Branton and Moore went to work.

"Certainly his brilliant closing argument had a profound impact on the jury," said Davis, now retired from teaching. "What I appreciated most about Leo's role in the case was his willingness to take seriously others' idea--including my own."

In 1955, Branton married Geraldine Pate Nicholas, who had been married to Fayard Nicholas of the famous Nicholas Brothers. According to the Times, she was a close friend of Dandridge and this was an important connection to the world of entertainment that put Branton in touch with other notables, including Richard Pryor and the Platters.

Geraldine Branton died in 2006. In addition to Tony Nicholas, Leo Branton is survived by sons Leo "Chip" Branton and Paul Nicholas; a brother, Sterling; a sister, Julia Branton; and five grandchildren.