Stephen Bingham

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Stephen Bingham
Born Stephen Mitchell Bingham
(1942-04-23) April 23, 1942 (age 75)
Residence Marin County, California
Nationality American
Citizenship United States
Education J.D., 1969, University of California at Berkeley; Yale University
Occupation Attorney (retired)
Known for Fugitive from justice (1971-1984) following an escape attempt at San Quentin State Prison by his client, George Jackson
Spouse(s) Gretchen Spreckels (m. 1965)
Françoise Blusseau (m. 1984)
Children Sylvia Chantal
Parent(s) Alfred Mitchell Bingham
Sylvia Doughty Knox Bingham

Stephen Mitchell Bingham (born April 23, 1942) is an American legal services and civil rights attorney who was tried and acquitted in 1986 for his alleged role in Black Panther George Jackson's attempted escape fifteen years earlier from San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California, in 1971.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Stephen Bingham, the son of Alfred Mitchell Bingham and Sylvia Doughty Knox Bingham, was raised in Salem, Connecticut where grew up among the state's wealthy class.[2][3][4] His father was an author, attorney, and activist who was elected to the Connecticut State Senate as a New Deal Democrat in 1940 and served one term; he was also the editor and a founder of the left-leaning Common Sense.[3][5] His grandfather, Hiram Bingham III was a governor and a U.S. Senator from Connecticut as well as the discoverer of the Machu Picchu ruins in Peru.[4]

Bingham graduated from Milton Academy in 1960, where he was captain of the track team.[6] He attended Yale University, where he participated on the freshman track and the varsity cross country teams.[6] Bingham became involved in politics during his sophomore year, and was reportedly influenced by Allard Lowenstein.[6] He was a member of the Yale Young Democrats and the Student Advisor Board, as well as the executive editor of the Yale Daily News.[6] In 1964, he graduated from Yale with honors, and spent two months in Mileston, Mississippi as a volunteer in the Freedom Summer civil rights project.[2]

Bingham decided to pursue a career in law and attended the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley.[2][6] During his first year, he married Gretchen Spreckels, the granddaughter of Adolph B. Spreckels and whose family founded the Spreckels Sugar Company, after a six-month relationship.[2][4][7] The couple joined the Peace Corps and were assigned to Sierra Leone.[6] After spending two years in West Africa with the Peace Corps, they returned to Berkeley in the fall of 1967 where Bingham resumed the study of law.[2][6] In 1969, he received a J.D. degree from Berkeley.[2] He was admitted to the California bar in January 1970.[4] The couple divorced prior to November, 1971.[4]

He marched for Cesar Chavez as well as with the Congress of Racial Equality in Mississippi, he was an intern in the United States Congress and the United States Department of Justice, and he worked for Berkeley Neighborhood Legal Services.[4] Bingham worked as part of a San Francisco Bay Area group that provided legal help to inmates.[4] Bingham worked on Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1968.[1]

Bingham participated in Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964. On his return to the United States he worked with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and in 1968 he worked in the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy.[8]

Defendant in San Quentin case[edit]

Bingham was accused of concealing a pistol in a tape recorder and smuggling it to Jackson in San Quentin's Adjustment Center. On August 21, 1971, Jackson used a pistol, an Astra 9-mm semi-automatic, to take over his tier in the Adjustment Center. In the failed escape attempt, six people were killed, including Jackson, three prison guards and two fellow inmates.

Following the incident, Bingham fled the country and lived in Europe for 13 years.[9] He was reported to have traveled to France at least twice.[1] In 1974, Bingham was interviewed for The New York Times in an unknown Canadian city by a law school classmate.[2] Afterwards, the FBI worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in an attempt to locate him.[2] In 1984, he returned to the United States and surrendered in San Francisco.[9] He claimed that he was framed due to his activism in prison reform.[9] He was reported to have "lived quietly in San Jose, California for six months" prior to surrendering.[1]

On July 5, 1984, Bingham's attorney, Paul A. Harris, announced that Bingham would surrender "within a week".[10] He surrendered on July 9 with the help of former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark.[1][4] According to Harris, government authorities set up Bingham as a scapegoat to deter other attorneys assisting the "black radical movement".[10] Bingham's father suggested that a woman who went with Bingham to San Quentin that day, but was never arrested or indicted, may have been involved in a plot to smuggle a weapon into the prison.[10]

Georgia State Senator Julian Bond and writer Jessica Mitford were among those noted to have contributed financial or moral support to Bingham.[1] Prior to the trial, he was defended by Leonard Weinglass.[4]

Opening arguments in the trial were scheduled to begin on April 7, 1986.[1]

As Time Magazine wrote at the time, "During a ten-week trial, Marin County prosecutors argued that Bingham's flight was proof of his guilt. Defense attorneys contended that prison guards had slipped Jackson the gun, hoping that the incendiary black militant would be killed. Bingham, they said, fled to save his life. 'To understand this case,' declared Bingham's lawyer M. Gerald Schwartzbach, 'you have to understand 1971 . . . We're talking about a time when students were murdered at Kent State and Jackson State.'"[11][12][13] A Marin County, California jury eventually acquitted him of murder and conspiracy charges at trial in 1986.[9]

Later life[edit]

While in Paris, Bingham met Francoise Blusseau whom he married after his surrender and before his trial.[1][9] In April 1987, the couple had a daughter, Sylvia, who in 2009 was struck and killed by a truck while riding her bicycle to work in Cleveland.[9][14]

Bingham was reported to have retained his "political activism" after the trial.[9] After his release, he worked for an Oakland law firm handling pension litigation, was a member of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, and supported a campaign to free Black Panther Elmer Pratt, who claimed he was also framed by the FBI.[9]

Bingham worked at Bay Area Legal Aid in California, where he was a staff attorney in its San Francisco regional office specializing in welfare law issues.[15][16]

Bingham became inactive as a member of the California State Bar on January 15, 2015.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Kathleen Maclay (April 7, 1986). "Bingham trial starts Monday". Times-News. Hendersonville, North Carolina. AP. p. 9. Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Oppenheimer, Chris (July 25, 1980). "Court ruling stirs memories of the Stephen Bingham case". The Day. New London, Connecticut. pp. 1, 8. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Milestones". TIME. XXV (21): 50. November 19, 1934. Retrieved July 12, 2012. Married. Alfred Mitchell Bingham, 29, pinko editor of Common Sense, third son of onetime Senator Hiram Bingham of Connecticut; and Sylvia Doughty Knox, 28, his associate editor; in Stonington, Conn. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Larry D. Hatfield (January 7, 1985). "Last vestiges of radical movement will go on trial in Bingham case". The Day. New London, Connecticut: The Day Publishing Company. pp. 1, 4. Retrieved July 15, 2011. 
  5. ^ Robert McG. Thomas, Jr. (November 5, 1998). "Alfred Bingham, 93, Dies; Once-Radical Intellectual". New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Gavzer, Bernard (November 1, 1971). "The Steve Bingham Story; Disappearance Remains Shrouded In Mystery". The Day. New London, Connecticut. AP. pp. 1, 16. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Engagements: Gretchen Spreckels Betrothed". Eugene Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. April 18, 1965. p. 4E. Retrieved July 15, 2011. 
  8. ^ Richard Rapaport, "Stephen Bingham, Defendant," This World, Jan. 5, 1966, pp. 10-12.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "People In The News: Ex-fugitive finally feels free, retains his political activism". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. June 28, 1987. p. 2A. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c Farragher, Thomas (July 6, 1984). "Bingham was set up by U.S., lawyer says". The Day. New London, Connecticut. pp. 1, 10. Retrieved July 14, 2012. 
  11. ^ Time Magazine, American Notes Justice, July 7, 1986,9171,961653,00.html
  12. ^ The Associated Press March 16, 2005 "Defense attorney called a godsend by acquitted tough guy actor " By: Greg Risling
  13. ^ The New York Times July 3, 1986 "Bingham Case: Trial Yields No Answers" By: Robert Lindsey
  14. ^ Staats, Jim (September 16, 2009). "Marin woman killed riding bicycle to work in Cleveland". Marin Independent Journal. San Rafael, California. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  15. ^ The Socialist Worker March 3, 2006 Page 4 Joe Allen interview with Stephen Bingham
  16. ^ BayLegal Staff List accessed April 27, 2007
  17. ^

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