Citing withheld evidence
Mumia Abu-Jamal supporters call for civil rights investigation
Published Jul 8, 2009 5:48 PM
On April 6, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal from death-row
journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of
first-degree murder in the shooting death of white Philadelphia police officer
Daniel Faulkner at a 1982 trial deemed unfair by Amnesty International
(www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/ 001/2000), the EuropeanParliament, the
Japanese Diet, Nelson Mandela, and numerous others.
Abu-Jamal had petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the U.S. Third
Circuit Court ruling of March 27, 2008, which rejected his bid, based on three
issues, for a new guilt-phase trial.
One issue was that of racially discriminatory jury selection, based on the 1986
case Batson v. Kentucky, on which the three-judge panel split 2-1, with Judge
Thomas Ambro dissenting. Ambro argued that prosecutor Joseph McGill’s use
of 10 out of his 15 peremptory strikes to remove otherwise acceptable
African-American jurors was itself enough evidence of racial discrimination to
grant Abu-Jamal a preliminary hearing that could have led to a new trial.
In denying Abu-Jamal this preliminary hearing, Ambro argued that the Court was
creating new rules that were being exclusively applied to Abu-Jamal’s
case. The denial “goes against the grain of our prior actions. ... I see
no reason why we should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our
precedents,” wrote Ambro.
Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal are responding to the April 2009 U.S. Supreme
Court ruling by launching a campaign (freemumia.com/civilrights.html) calling
for a federal civil rights investigation into Abu-Jamal’s case. The
campaign’s supporters include the Riverside Church’s Prison
Ministry [New York City], actress Ruby Dee, Professor Cornel West and U.S.
Congressman Charles Rangel, who is Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and
In 2004, the NAACP passed a resolution supporting a new trial for Abu-Jamal,
and campaign supporters will be gathering to publicize the civil rights
campaign at the upcoming NAACP National Convention in New York City, July
11-16, and to pressure the NAACP to honor their earlier resolutions by actively
supporting the current campaign seeking an investigation.
Supporters will then be in Washington, D.C., on July 22 to lobby their elected
officials, and in mid-September, they’ll return to Washington, D.C., for
a major press conference.
Thousands of signatures have been collected for a public letter to U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder, which reads: “Inasmuch as there is no other
court to which Abu-Jamal can appeal for justice, we turn to you for remedy of a
27-year history of gross violations of U.S. constitutional law and
international standards of justice.”
The letter cites Holder’s recent investigation into the case of former
Senator Ted Stevens, which led to all charges against him being dropped:
“You were specifically outraged by the fact that the prosecution withheld
information critical to the defense’s argument for acquittal, a violation
clearly committed by the prosecution in Abu-Jamal’s case. Mumia
Abu-Jamal, though not a U.S. Senator of great wealth and power, is a Black man
revered around the world for his courage, clarity, and commitment, and deserves
no less than Senator Stevens.”
Several campaigns seeking a civil right investigation into the Abu-Jamal case
have been launched since 1995, at which time the Congressional Black Caucus was
one of many groups that publicly supported an investigation. In a 1995 letter
written independently of the CBC, Representatives Chaka Fattah, Ron Dellums,
Cynthia McKinney, Maxine Waters and John Conyers (now Chairman of the House
Judiciary Committee) stated, “There is ample evidence that Mr.
Abu-Jamal’s constitutional rights were violated, that he did not receive
a fair trial, and that he is, in fact, innocent.”
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Fois rejected the CBC’s request, yet in
a September 1995 letter written to Congressman Ron Dellums conceded that even
though there is a five-year statute of limitations for a civil rights
investigation, the statute does not apply if “there is significant
evidence of an ongoing conspiracy.”
One of the 2009 campaign’s organizers is Dr. Suzanne Ross, a spokesperson
for the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition of New York City (www.freemumia.com).
Citing Fois’ letter, Ross argues that the “continued denial of
justice to Mumia in the federal courts, as documented by dissenting Judge
Thomas Ambro,” is evidence of an “ongoing conspiracy” and
thus merits an investigation.
[Ross continued:] “Throughout the history of this case, we were always
told, ‘Wait until we get to the federal courts. They will surely overturn
the racism and gross misconduct of Judge Sabo,’ but we never got even a
preliminary hearing on the issue considered most winnable: racial bias in jury
selection, the so-called Batson issue.”
Ross also criticizes the Third Circuit’s denial of Abu-Jamal’s
claim that Judge Sabo was unfair at the 1995-97 PCRA [Pennsylvania’s
Post-Conviction Relief Act] hearings and considers this denial to be further
evidence of an “ongoing conspiracy.” Ross argues that the
courts’ continued affirmation of Sabo’s rulings during the PCRA
hearings, and Sabo’s ultimate ruling that nothing presented at the PCRA
hearings was significant enough to merit a new trial, serves to legitimize
numerous injustices throughout Abu-Jamal’s case.
Specifically referring to the issue of withheld evidence, which was central to
the case of former Senator Ted Stevens, Ross identifies five key instances in
Abu-Jamal’s case where “evidence was withheld that could have led
to Mumia’s acquittal.” The DA’s office withheld two items
from Abu-Jamal’s defense: the actual location of the driver’s
license application found in Officer Faulkner’s pocket and Pedro
Polakoff’s crime scene photos.
At the request of prosecutor McGill, Judge Sabo ruled to block three items from
the jury: prosecution eyewitness Robert Chobert’s probation status and
criminal history; testimony from defense eyewitness Veronica Jones about police
attempts to solicit false testimony; and testimony from police officer Gary
Waskshul that contradicted other prosecution witnesses.
“The urgent need for a civil rights investigation is heightened because
the DA is still trying to execute Mumia,” emphasized Ross, an organizer
of the campaign seeking an investigation. This past April, the U.S. Supreme
Court declined to hear Abu-Jamal’s appeal for a new guilt-phase trial,
but the Court has yet to rule on whether to hear the appeal made simultaneously
by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, which seeks to execute
Abu-Jamal without granting him a new penalty-phase trial.
For more information on how you can support the campaign for a federal civil
rights investigation, and to sign the online letter and petition to Attorney
General Holder, please visit freemumia.com/civilrights.html or
Excerpted from an article that appeared in the SF Bay View Newspaper on
June 16 at www.sfbayview.com.
Bennett is a founder of Journalists for Mumia.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
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