Who Is Mumia?
How Can I Help?
Pennsylvania again seeks Mumia's execution
BY JEFF MACKLER
In late Oct. 2008 the Philadelphia District Attorney's office headed by Lynne Abraham announced that it would again appeal the 2001 Federal District Court decision by William H. Yohn that invalidated the death sentence imposed at Mumia Abu-Jamal's 1982 frame-up trial presided over by "hanging judge" Albert Sabo.
Yohn ruled at that time that Sabo, who had sentenced more defendants to execution, the vast majority Black, than any other sitting judge in the country, had improperly instructed the jury by informing them that they did not have to be unanimous on each and every issue sufficient to find mitigating circumstances to impose a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole rather than execution by lethal injection. Yohn ordered the State of Pennsylvania to conduct a new sentencing hearing with the proper jury instructions within 180 days. That order has been delayed for the past eight years pending the outcome of the state's appeal.
While akin to a new trial, including the right of the defendant to introduce evidence of innocence, the procedure only allows the jury to impose a sentence of life in prison or execution. A verdict of innocence and freedom is excluded since Mumia's frame-up 1982 trial resulted in a guilty verdict.
Jamal, an awarding-winning journalist, leading critic of the racist Philadelphia Police Department and perhaps the world's most well-known innocent political prisoner, was falsely convicted in 1982 of the murder of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Massive evidence of Mumia's innocence has been systematically excluded from the legal proceedings that have marked this racist persecution for the past 26 years.
Having failed in its first effort to reverse Yohn ruling before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, Philadelphia officials announced that they would meet the November 19, 2008 deadline and ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the two previous court federal decisions and order Mumia's execution.
While many legal specialists, as well as Third Circuit precedents, indicate that a re-imposition of the death sentence by the Supreme Court is highly unlikely, the experience of the past 26 years teaches that the "law of the land" is subordinate to the single-minded institutional hatred of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a leading revolutionary critic of the system's racial bias. The desire to demonstrate that the criminal "justice" system has acted properly at all junctures of the case weighs heavily on the system's most ardent defenders.
A case in point is the recent interview by rightwing Philadelphia talk show host and co-author of the new book, "Murdered by Mumia," Michael Smerconish with Democratic Party Presidential candidate Barack Obama. Smerconish, who, along with the Fraternal Order of Police, has been central to Pennsylvania's efforts to murder Mumia, asked Obama where he stood. Obama responded that while he didn't know much about the case, "If he is guilty, he should be executed." Curious that the diplomatic Obama did not respond to Smerconish, a reactionary Republican recently turned Democrat, and Obama supporter. Obama might have said, "If Mumia is innocent he should be freed", or perhaps, "If there is significant evidence of his innocence and even more evidence that the court's own precedents have been violated, he should be freed." But this would be too much to expect from a candidate wedded to a system where institutional racism is the norm.
However unexpected and unlikely from a "legal" point of view, if the past record of misapplication of the law to Mumia's case continues as it has during the past 26 years, a Supreme Court decision ordering his execution cannot be excluded. In his dissenting opinion before the Third Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro, for example, expressed his annoyance with his colleagues' blind eye to their own previous rulings when he wrote, "I see no reason why we should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedents." Ambro's dissent referred to the court's application of the historic 1986 Batson v. Kentucky ruling holding that the exclusion of Black jurors based on race was unconstitutional. Outvoted by 2-1 in the Third Circuit Ambro stated that the majority's decision, ... "goes against the grain of our prior actions."
Indeed, the Third Circuit''s anti-Batson ruling violates the most recent Supreme Court decision on the same issue that held that the exclusion of a single Black juror on account of race necessitates a new trial. In Mumia's case eleven Blacks were excluded! Nothing can be taken for granted today. Mumia's life is still very much on the line.
Mumia's legal team is now seeking to reverse the Third Circuit decision denying him a new trial. His lead counsel, Robert R. Bryan, was recently successful in extending the deadline for the filing of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to December 19, 2008.
The Supreme Court has no legal obligation to certify that it will hear Mumia's final appeal. Indeed, it rejects some 95 percent of the 2,500 such petitions it receives in death penalty cases every year. This “killing machine” is driven forward by a series of laws and court decisions that severely restrict appeal rights in the federal courts, with the infamous 1996 Clinton-signed Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) being first on the list. This heinous legislation, requiring federal courts to grant a "presumption of correctness" to state court findings of fact, in this case the findings of the overtly racist Judge Albert Sabo, was designed to make state level decisions "effective," that is, virtually immune to federal appeal.
Similar court decisions, applied to Mumia in the past and to Troy Davis today, include the 1993 Supreme Court decision in Herrera v. Collins holding that "innocence is no defense" and that it is trumped by "timeliness," Both laws were designed to facilitate the execution of innocent people, mostly oppressed nationalities. In Herrera evidence of innocence that is presented beyond whatever state statutory deadlines have been put into place is inadmissible. In the case of Troy Davis, whose life now hangs in the balance, seven of the nine so-called witnesses who testified against him have recanted their testimony and stated that it was originally given under police pressure.
The Davis case is among the most blatant applications of the law today. A number of years ago innocent Gary Graham, whose post-deadline evidence of innocence included several extremely credible eyewitnesses proving that he was nowhere near the murder scene and a county sheriff who demolished the prosecution's murder weapon theory with irrefutable evidence, was executed in Texas.
Mumia is alive today only because a broad and unrelenting national and international movement has been constructed in his defense.
While Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has pledged to sign a third warrant for Mumia's execution (if the Supreme Court reverses its previous legal precedents), Mumia's supporters press forward with a public campaign that has captured the imagination of millions who cherish human rights and freedom.
The recent publication of J. Patrick O'Connor's book, "The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal," has been nationally acclaimed and cited in the New York Times, a publication that has previously failed to publish any favorable material on Mumia's case. In late October O'Connor spoke at 13 public meetings and radio and television appearances in California organized by the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
These will be followed by several meetings organized across the State of Connecticut and in New York.
Similarly, a new and award-winning documentary, "In Prison My Whole Life," recently purchased by the Sundance Channel, is to be premiered on HBO TV in the coming months and then scheduled for local distribution across the country.
Mumia's national defense network led by the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, has set Saturday, December 6 for local protests across the country.
A victory for Mumia and his freedom can only be a victory for democratic rights for everyone. A free Mumia will contribute immensely to the power of the mass movements that will inevitably arise to challenge the foundations of the present system of war, racism, poverty and corruption.
For further information contact:
West Coast: The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal: 510-268-9429, freemumia.org,
East Coast: ICFFMAJ: 215-476-8812, freemumia.com or Abu-Jamal-News.com