FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL IS AN AFRICAN AMERICAN JOURNALIST AND ADVOCATE
FOR RACIAL AND
ECONOMIC JUSTICE. HE IS CURRENTLY ON DEATH ROW IN PENNSYLVANIA.
In 1982, Jamal was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police
sentenced to death despite evidence which points to his
innocence. Over the last
decade, appellate courts have refused to recognize the racial and
biases that violated Jamal's human and constitutional rights and
led to his
conviction and death sentence.
Jamal has always maintained his innocence. The night of the
shooting, he was
driving a cab when he came upon a Philadelphia police officer
beating his brother
who had been stopped for making a wrong turn onto a one way
street. Jamal rushed
to the scene to stop the beating. What happened next still
According to eye witnesses, someone fired on the officer and then
took a bullet in the abdomen and was left bleeding on a curb when
Witnesses maintain that Jamal was beaten at the scene. One
witness testified that
45 minutes transpired before Jamal was taken to the hospital
where, according to
hospital staff, he was beaten again. It took two hours of surgery
to remove the
bullet that had perforated his liver and lodged in his back.
The state argued Jamal's guilt and quickly pushed the case to
trial despite the
seriousness of his injuries. Questions remainas to how thoroughly
other possible assailants.The death penalty was sought although
Jamal had no
criminal record. All of Jamal's direct appeals have been
exhausted. A death
warrant can be signed at anytime. Public pressure continues to
avert a death
warrant, allowing time for the legal team, headed by renowned
Leonard Weinglass, to investigate the case and prepare a petition
for a new
Jamal is one of 189 people on death row in Pennsylvania, being
held at the
state's new super maximum security prison in remote, southwestern
Visits are limited to two hours once a week. Visitors pass
through a series of
remote controlled doors to reach visiting cubicles where
plexiglass and wire
separate visitor from prisoner. Group activities and work
denied. Prisoners are locked in concrete, virtually sound proof 8
x 10 foot cells
for 23 to 24 hours a day.Five days a week, prisoners have one
hour of exercise
in an outdoor cage.
Over 125 eyewitnesses gave statements to the police at the scene.
handpicked two of these eyewitnesses who, though their stories
several times in previous months, fingered Jamal at the trial.
Both had prior
convictions and pending charges, making them susceptible to
pressure from the
police and District Attorney(D.A.). Their testimonies conflicted
with two other
prosecution witnesses who placed Jamal at the scene but failed to
as the assailant.
One eyewitness described an assailant more than 50 pounds heavier
Another testified the assailant wore an Afro while Jamal wore his
dreadlocks. Four reported seeing someone flee from the
scene.(Jamal was unable
to run away since he was seriously injured.)
The court allotted Jamal only $150 for pre-trial investigation.
by the state's failure to provide eyewitness' addresses, meant
the defense was
able to find only two eyewitnesses by the time of the trial. The
evidence presented at the trial was speculative.The state claimed
weapon was a gun legally registered in Jamal's name. Yet, police
experts failed to match the gun to any of the bullets found in
the officers body
or at the scene. A dusting of this weapon just hours after the
to reveal Jamal's fingerprints. The police never tested Mumia's
hands for powder
The prosecution called a series of police witnesses who testified
that Jamal had
confessed to the shooting. Yet, the report of the arresting
officer mentioned no
such confession. At the time of the trial, this officer was on
vacation, and the
court denied requests to postpone the trial until he returned.
Jamal sought and was initially granted the right to defend
himself. Then, during
jury selection, a court-appointed attorney, who openly told the
court he had
neither the time nor the training to handle the case, was forced
on Jamal. His
efforts to have this attorney removed because he was ineffective
were denied by
the trial court as well as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.This
attorney has since
Although 40% of Philadelphia's residents are black, all but two
white. Eleven of sixteen potential black jurors were excluded
peremptorily by the
prosecution. Such racial bias in jury selection is a common
practice of the
Philadelphia DA's office from the head of the homicide unit on
down. In 1986,
theU.S. Supreme Court ruled that purposeful racial discrimination
selection denies the constitutional "protection that a trial by
jury is intended
to secure" (Batson v. Kentucky), but failed to apply the
In 1989, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Jamal's appeal on
Further, the court allowed the prosecution to exclude "for cause"
a juror who
questioned whether she could vote for the death penalty.
Meanwhile the defense's
challenge of a juror who admitted his bias against Jamal was
denied. Judge Albert
Sabo presided over Jamal's trial. He served on the Philadelphia
bench for over
17 years, hearing only homicide cases for 14 years. Though he
retired in 1990,
he remains responsible for one in eight death sentences in the
far fewer homicide cases than many other sitting judges in the
city, Sabo still
ended up with more death sentences. Nationwide, Sabo has
sentenced more people
(31 total) to death than any other judge in the country, all but
two of whom are
persons of color.
Philadelphia Inquirer review of 35 of Sabo's trials found that
comments, his rulings and his instructions to the jury" Sabo
Appellate courts have overturned verdicts in 20 of Sabo'scases, 7
of them death
sentences. In his summation at the sentencing hearing, the
McGill, insisted that the jury was not being "ask(ed) tokill
anyone" as Jamal
would have "appeal after appeal after appeal." This implied that
responsibility for determining a death sentence did not
ultimately rest with the
jury. Such language has been found fatally misleading by courts
York, Georgia, California and other states and by the U.S. Supreme
providing reason to overturn a sentence.
In the 1986 case --Commonwealth v. Baker- - (a case also
prosecuted by McGill
and presided over by Sabo), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled
language concerning the appeals process "minimize(d) the jury's
responsibility for a verdict of death" and overturned the death
in reviewing Jamal's case in 1989, the court reversed this
precedent and upheld
the death sentence. In a 1990 case --Commonwealth v.Beasley-
re-restablished this precedent, "precluding all remarks about the
process in all future trials." So,the question begs to be
answered: Why was
Jamal's case treated differently?
Breaking another precedent, Jamal's appeal was decided by only
four members of
the seven-Justice Supreme Court- the first such review by so few
Pennsylvania's history. Chief Justice Robert Nix heard the
argument but did not
participate in the court's decision. Justice McDermott cast the
necessary to uphold the death sentence though his impartiality
In the middle of the trial, he and Jamal had a bitter verbal
McDermott denied Jamal's appeal tohave his court_appointed lawyer
that a defense attorney is an officer of the court and,
therefore, takes orders
from the judge, not the defendant.
Throughout the trial, the prosecution attempted to raise Jamal's
background. Judge Sabo upheld the defense's objections until the
last phase of
the trial -- the sentencing phase. During this phase, Jamal
constitutional right to address the jury. After he completed his
statement, prosecutor McGill cross-examined him on his membership
in the Black
Panther Party (BPP) and his political views during that period.
evidence a 1970 --Philadelphia Inquirer- -article which featured
16--year--old Jamal, McGill asserted that Jamal's BPP membership
meant he had
been waiting 12 years for an opportunity "to kill a cop."
The defense objected to this line of questioning, but Judge Sabo
Judge concluded that though he was not under oath, Jamal had
opened himself up
to cross-examination simply by addressing the jury. Such
violatedJamal's First Amendment rights of free speech and
association. Yet, the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded in --Commonwealth
allowing Jamal's political views and associations to influence
sentence was not the same as punishing him for them.
In October 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hearJamal's
appeal of this
Pennsylvania court decision. Yet, in March 1992, the Supreme
the death sentence of a Delaware man, David Dawson, due to
evidence submitted by
the prosecution at his sentencing hearing concerning his
affiliation with the
Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prisoner organization.
The High Court
took issue with the lack of testimony about the Aryan
in the words of Chief Justice William Rehnquist,"the Aryan
was employed simply because the jury would find these beliefs
reprehensible" --Dawson v. Delaware-.
Similarly, the jury in Jamal's case heard no expert testimony
about the BPP.
Prosecutor McGill tended the nearly all white jury to find this
"reprehensible,"especially when he, not an expert, equated Bpp
By ruling with Dawson, the U.S. Supreme court overturned an
Supreme Court Decision. This decision had upheld Dawson's death
just one case --Commonwealth v. Abu-Jamal-- to justify its
oddly,the U.S. Supreme Court never mentioned Jamal's case in the
"Dawson--opinion". Nor did it offer any explanation as to why
Jamal's case differently. Why the double standard??
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL'S CASE ILLUSTRATES SEVERAL WAYS IN WHICH RACIAL,
POLITICAL BIASES ARE STRUCTURALLY IMBEDDED IN OUR CRIMINAL
The case raises many serious questions. Why would the prosecution
go to such
lengths to exclude black jurors and to prosecute Jamal on the
basis of his
political background? Why would the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
both violate its
own precedents, upholding Jamal's death sentence, and overlook
violations of his rights? Why the U.S. Supreme Court's
inconsistent approach to
the First Amendment?
Jamal's case needs to be understood in the broader context of
injustices in the
U.S. legal system. Over 50% of those on death row nationwide are
color. Black men alone makeup nearly 40% of death row prisoners
represent less than 6% of the U.S. population at large. Only two
of the more
than 272 executions carried out since the U.S. Supreme Court
reinstated the death
penalty in 1976 have resulted from cases involving a black victim
and a white
Prison demographics are similar to those of death row. About 50%
of the U.S.
prisoners, a population that has doubled in the last decade, are
people of color.
Most prisoners are unemployed or underemployed when they enter
the system. Not
surprisingly, most prison sentences are for economic crimes such
as larceny and
burglary. Put in a global context, the U.S. has the highest
in the world. AN AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE IS ALMOST FIVE TIMES AS
LIKELY TO GO TO
JAIL AS HIS COUNTER-PART IN SOUTH AFRICA, MAKING THE U.S. THE
INCARCERATOR PER CAPITA OF PEOPLE OF AFRICAN DESCENT.
8-11-95 ,BY MUMIA ABU-JAMAL
In the late morning of August 7th, 1995, Senior Judge Sabo
surprised many in the
courtroom by issuing an extended stay of execution, citing
"Pending Appeals" in
the case. The decision seemed expected by prosecutors, but
stunned membersof the
defense team, whose had ten days till death, and whoexpected
nothing from the
crusty, acerbic jurist.
Observers believe that this was the first stay issued in the
career.Questions abound among them, "what does this mean?"
To simplify, a stay is a judicial stop sign, and in this
case,stopped a death
warrant. It should be clear however, that the writer remains on
Death Row, under
a death sentence, only the date has been changed.
The state of Pennsylvania still has every intention of killing
me, just not right
Thus, the stay is a limited victory, not just for the Jamal's and
but for thousands and tens of thousands of people from every
corner of the globe,
to these many, our most profound and heartfelt thanks for your
spirited protests. "Long live John Africa!"
Although many radicals and progressives expressed joy at news of
the stay, other
political analysts saw it as a clever move by a clever judge, who
did what higher
courts would have done and, in so doing, attempted to blunt the
edge of a growing
and militant anti-death penalty movement, in Philadelphia and
stymieing a series of planned demonstrations.
Whatever the reasoning, let us utilize this precious time to
build a stronger and
broader movement, to not "stay" one execution, but to halt them
all! "Down with
the racist U.S. Death Penalty!"
In an age when South Africa, once the pariah of the international
abolished all executions as an affront to the inherent right to
life, our task
cannot be to merely stay (orslow down) one man's execution. No!
It must be to
echo the world , the European Community, Australia, South Africa,
et al. --in
total abolition of this racist vestige of the lynching tree:all
forms of state
It will take the power of the people-you-us all-to bring it
about. We can do it.
If you are truly committed, we will do it. I know I'm doing my
part , will you
help me? This stay is but the first step, although in the right
direction, in our
long walk to freedom.
No matter where you live there is a support group near
Concerned Family & Friends at 215-476-8812
We are growing --thanx to you!
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