LOS ANGELES – Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, a former Black Panther Party leader who spent 27 years in prison on a California murder conviction that was later overturned, has died at age 63 in his adopted home of Tanzania.

Pratt died early Friday at home in Imbaseni village, 15 miles from Arusha, Tanzania, where he had lived for at least half a decade, said a friend in Arusha, former Black Panther Pete O’Neal.

Pratt’s name and his long-fought case with its political backdrop became emblematic of a tumultuous era in American history when the beret-wearing Panthers raised their fists in defiance and carried big guns, striking fear in white America.

The party, founded by Huey Newton in Oakland, Calif., in 1966, was targeted by late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in a program which sent infiltrators into their gatherings and recruited informants. One of them, Julius Butler, was the key witness against Pratt when he was charged in 1968 with the Santa Monica tennis court shooting of school teacher Caroline Olson.

Pratt, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, said he was innocent and maintained there were audiotapes that would prove he had been at a Black Panther meeting in Oakland the day of the killing. His attorneys later said that FBI agents and police hid and possibly destroyed wiretap evidence from the meeting which they had under surveillance.

His conviction in 1972 came during a period of turmoil marked by shootouts between police and Black Panthers, and the trial of activist professor Angela Davis, who was accused of providing guns for Black Panthers in a Marin County, Calif., courthouse shooting. She was acquitted of murder charges in a high-profile trial.

Although the Panthers were associated with violence, they also established free breakfast programs for poor children, health clinics and pest-control services for those who needed them.

For years, Pratt supporters including well-known civil rights activists pressed for his release to no avail. But two lawyers, Stuart Hanlon and Johnnie L. Cochran, were relentless in pursuing the case. Each time they were turned down, they filed new motions. In 1997, they won.

Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey granted him a new trial, saying the credibility of prosecution witness Butler — who testified that Pratt had confessed to him — could have been undermined if the jury had known of his relationship with law enforcement. Pratt was freed later that month.

Cochran, best known for representing such clients as O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, called the day Pratt’s freedom was secured “the happiest day of my life practicing law.”

Prosecutors announced two years later that they would abandon efforts to retry Pratt. But they never acknowledged he was wrongly convicted.

During the remaining 14 years of his life, Pratt divided his time between his home in Louisiana and his adopted home in Tanzania, according to his associates there.