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Despite maintaining then and now that he is innocent, Pinell, after being repeatedly told he would face the death penalty if he did not confess, eventually pled guilty in 1965, at the age of 19, to assault in connection with the kidnapping and rape of a young woman in San Francisco:
"In 1964, a white woman accused me of rape, assault and kidnap. I was 19 years old. I turned myself into the authorities to clarify the charges against me which I knew to be falsified. The deputies beat me several times because the alleged victim was white, and the Public Defender and the Judge influenced my mother into believing that I would be sentenced to death unless I pled guilty. At their insistence and despite my innocence, I pled guilty to the charge of rape, with the understanding that I would be eligible for parole after 6 months. When I arrived at the California Department of Corrections, I was informed that I had been sentenced to three years to life."
While Pinell was imprisoned in San Quentin State Prison he made contact with revolutionary prisoners such as George Jackson, one of the Soledad Brothers and W.L. Nolen. Both men were African-Americans who, in jail, turned away from a life focused on crime to a life focused on the ideas of social revolution. They both lead a movement to convert their fellow prisoners to the same ideology. Along with their fellow prisoners, they fought for an end to guard brutality and racism, and for prisoner unity.
Pinell has also spent time at the well-known Folsom Prison.
San Quentin Six
On August 21, 1971, there was a prisoner uprising in Pinell's housing unit at San Quentin, led by George Jackson. According to the state of California, lawyer-activist Stephen Bingham had smuggled a pistol concealed in a tape recorder to Jackson, who was housed in San Quentin's Adjustment Center at the time, awaiting trial for the murder of a prison guard. On August 21, 1971, Jackson used the pistol, an Astra 9-mm semi-automatic, to take over his tier in the Adjustment Center. In his failed escape attempt, six people were killed, including three prison guards, two prisoners, and Jackson himself. Of the remaining prisoners in the unit, six of them, including Pinell, were put on trial for murder and conspiracy. They were known as The San Quentin Six. Three of them were acquitted of all charges, and three were found guilty of various charges. Pinell was convicted of assault on a guard. Although Pinell was convicted of assault, and another of the San Quentin Six had a murder conviction, only Pinell remains imprisoned. By 1998, all of the men except Pinell had been set free.
Hugo Pinell had been living in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison since 1990, but was recently transferred to California State Prison, Sacramento. Pinell has lost nine bids for parole. His next parole hearing is in May of 2014.
- Document related to his 1965 conviction; http://online.ceb.com/calcases/CA2/232CA2d284.htm