In 1982, Jamal was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer and sentenced to death despite evidence which points to his innocence. Over the last decade, appellate courts have refused to recognize the racial and political 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 remains unclear. According to eye witnesses, someone fired on the officer and then fled. Jamal took a bullet in the abdomen and was left bleeding on a curb when the police backup arrived.

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 police pursued 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 defense attorney Leonard Weinglass, to investigate the case and prepare a petition for a new trial.

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 Greene County. 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 opportunities are 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. The prosecution handpicked two of these eyewitnesses who, though their stories had changed 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 identify him as the assailant.

One eyewitness described an assailant more than 50 pounds heavier than Jamal. Another testified the assailant wore an Afro while Jamal wore his hair in 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. This, compounded 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 ballistic evidence presented at the trial was speculative.The state claimed the murder weapon was a gun legally registered in Jamal's name. Yet, police ballistics 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 incident failed to reveal Jamal's fingerprints. The police never tested Mumia's hands for powder burns.

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 been disbarred.

Although 40% of Philadelphia's residents are black, all but two jurors were 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 during jury selection denies the constitutional "protection that a trial by jury is intended to secure" (Batson v. Kentucky), but failed to apply the principle retroactively. In 1989, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Jamal's appeal on this basis.

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 state. Handling 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 "through his comments, his rulings and his instructions to the jury" Sabo "favored prosecutors."

Appellate courts have overturned verdicts in 20 of Sabo'scases, 7 of them death sentences. In his summation at the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor, Joseph McGill, insisted that the jury was not being "ask(ed) tokill anyone" as Jamal would have "appeal after appeal after appeal." This implied that the responsibility for determining a death sentence did not ultimately rest with the jury. Such language has been found fatally misleading by courts in New York, Georgia, California and other states and by the U.S. Supreme Court, 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 that similar language concerning the appeals process "minimize(d) the jury's sense of responsibility for a verdict of death" and overturned the death sentence. But in reviewing Jamal's case in 1989, the court reversed this precedent and upheld the death sentence. In a 1990 case --Commonwealth v.Beasley- they re-restablished this precedent, "precluding all remarks about the appellate 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 justices in Pennsylvania's history. Chief Justice Robert Nix heard the argument but did not participate in the court's decision. Justice McDermott cast the fourth vote necessary to uphold the death sentence though his impartiality was questionable. In the middle of the trial, he and Jamal had a bitter verbal exchange after McDermott denied Jamal's appeal tohave his court_appointed lawyer removed, ruling 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 Political background. Judge Sabo upheld the defense's objections until the last phase of the trial -- the sentencing phase. During this phase, Jamal exercised his constitutional right to address the jury. After he completed his prepared statement, prosecutor McGill cross-examined him on his membership in the Black Panther Party (BPP) and his political views during that period. Introducing as evidence a 1970 --Philadelphia Inquirer- -article which featured a then 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 overruled. The Judge concluded that though he was not under oath, Jamal had opened himself up to cross-examination simply by addressing the jury. Such proceedings clearly violatedJamal's First Amendment rights of free speech and association. Yet, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded in --Commonwealth v.Abu-Jamal-- that allowing Jamal's political views and associations to influence the jury's 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 Court overturned 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 Brotherhood, concluding, in the words of Chief Justice William Rehnquist,"the Aryan Brotherhood evidence was employed simply because the jury would find these beliefs morally 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 affiliation "reprehensible,"especially when he, not an expert, equated Bpp membership with cop-killing.

By ruling with Dawson, the U.S. Supreme court overturned an earlier Delaware Supreme Court Decision. This decision had upheld Dawson's death sentence, citing just one case --Commonwealth v. Abu-Jamal-- to justify its decision. Yet oddly,the U.S. Supreme Court never mentioned Jamal's case in the "Dawson--opinion". Nor did it offer any explanation as to why it handled Jamal's case differently. Why the double standard??


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 numerous 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 people of color. Black men alone makeup nearly 40% of death row prisoners although they 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 defendant.

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 incarceration rate 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 WORLD'S LEADING INCARCERATOR PER CAPITA OF PEOPLE OF AFRICAN DESCENT.


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 judges 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 now.

Thus, the stay is a limited victory, not just for the Jamal's and the Africa's, 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 militant and 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 beyond, thereby 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 community, has 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 murder.

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 you.Contact International Concerned Family & Friends at 215-476-8812

We are growing --thanx to you!

Mumia Abu-Jamal

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