Pete O'Neal when he was a member of the Black Panther Party
Pete and Charlotte O'Neal
Pete and Charlotte O'Neal
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
A man who was once the leader of the Kansas City Black Panther Party is hoping for a presidential pardon to re-enter the United States.
Pete O'Neal's family said he was exiled to Africa for 43 years because he did not want to go to prison for a crime he did not commit. Now, a local journalist is joining the fight to bring O'Neal back to Kansas City.
The former Kansas City Star reporter who wrote the book called Case for a Pardon hopes it will convince President Barack Obama to pardon O'Neal.
For two decades Charlotte O'Neal fled her hometown of Kansas City for Tanzania in east Africa with her husband, Pete O'Neal.
"I always play it with a blues voice, a jazz voice because I'm from Kansas City," Charlotte O'Neal said. "Can you imagine that two city folks who had never done anything like that - we started learning how to farm."
The couple left in a rush under the veil of darkness after he was arrested and charged with a crime.
"Pete O'Neal was charged in 1970 for transferring a gun across state lines from Kansas City, KS, to Kansas City, MO," author Steve Penn said.
He and his family contend it was a crime he did not commit.
"Instead of going to prison for something he had not done, we left," Charlotte O'Neal said.
After 20 years, Charlotte O'Neal returned to the United States for speaking engagements and to visit her mother, who passed away, but her husband did not. She wants her husband to have the same opportunity - his mother is 93 years old.
"If he boarded a plane and embarked on a trip to Kansas City, he would immediately be taken into custody by the federal marshals," Penn said.
After being taken into custody, Pete O'Neal would then serve his four-year sentence in prison for the gun charge, something he refused to do in the 1970s.
"It is a matter of principle. Pete O'Neal contends that he didn't do anything wrong," Penn said.
Penn once covered Pete O'Neal's story when he was a reporter at the Kansas City Star. He was so fascinated by it, he decided to write a book about the man's life. In it, he shows the good that Pete O'Neal did - he opened the United African Alliance Community Center and a nonprofit school called Leaders of Tomorrow Children's Home that teaches and feeds children in Tanzania.
"I just believe he has done so much good," Penn said.
The book also showcases the bad, including Pete O'Neal's run-ins with the law - as a young man he was convicted of receiving stolen property.
"I believe it is a different time, a different era. I think that people will have a bigger heart about Pete O'Neal," Penn said.
Charlotte O'Neal hopes she and her husband can enter their hometown together once again.
"It's time. The time is now," she said.
Pete O'Neal is the third cousin of Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver and Cleaver wrote the foreword of the book. In it, he says Pete O'Neal inspired his social activism, but because he fell in the middle of the ideology of the Black Panther Party and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he chose to act by getting involved in politics.
"This book clears up many of the myths and misinformation about Pete's case and I will again make an appeal to the Attorney General for a full pardon," Cleaver said. "Those familiar with this case, all along the political spectrum, agree it was a wrongful conviction and we should stop and take note."
Click here for the petition for pardon for Pete O'Neal. Click here for the Case for a Pardon Facebook page.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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