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Legal appeal exposes police frame-up of Mumia

Published Jul 12, 2007 11:14 PM

The struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal is breaking out on many fronts. Following up on the important May 17 hearing before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in early June attorney Robert Bryan filed an appeal with the Eastern District Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to reverse a decision of a lower court that dismissed Abu-Jamal’s post-conviction petition as being “untimely.” (Read the entire appeal at www.millions4mumia.org)

July 4, Philadelphia.
WW photo: Joe Piette

Not willing to sit and wait for the courts to do the right thing for U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, hundreds gathered July 4 opposite the Liberty Bell and took to the streets to demand his freedom while providing information on his case to people visiting the area for the city’s official “independence day” celebration. Speakers also raised the cases of Leonard Peltier, the MOVE 9, the Cuban Five and Puerto Rican nationalists. (See page.)

A week earlier a tape from Abu-Jamal was played several times during the gathering of more than 10,000 people at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta, Ga. In New York, activists have launched a petition campaign to have a street in Harlem renamed for Mumia.

Newest appeal charges police fraud

The latest appeal filed by Bryan argues that newly discovered evidence shows the state manipulated witnesses to give false testimony against Abu-Jamal in violation of his rights under the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions. The appeal charges that the lower court erred in dismissing Abu-Jamal’s Post Conviction Relief Act petition as untimely.

Bryan states that prosecutorial and police fraud seriously undermined the fairness of the 1982 trial, and that the Pennsylvania courts were complicit with their dismissal without hearing a December 2003 PRCA petition filed on Abu-Jamal’s behalf seeking relief based on this new evidence.

The 2003 petition offered newly discovered evidence from two sources. Former prostitute Yvette Williams testified that Cynthia White, a key “eyewitness” for the prosecution at Abu-Jamal’s 1983 trial, admitted to Ms. Williams that she lied and committed perjury after receiving both money and threats from police officers. At the time of Abu-Jamal’s trial, White, also a prostitute, had several criminal matters pending against her. While sharing a prison cell White told Williams that police officers threatened to seek maximum penalties if she didn’t testify that she saw Abu-Jamal shoot Daniel Faulkner, a white police officer.

Another declaration, from Kenneth Pate, challenged court statements made by his step-sister Priscilla Durham that she heard Abu-Jamal confess to killing Faulkner while he was being treated for a gunshot wound in the hospital emergency room where Durham worked as a guard. According to Pate, after the trial Durham admitted to him that she had also lied because of pressure exerted by the police.

The December 2003 petition was dismissed in June 2005 by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe for not being “timely.” Bryan asserts that this evidence of monstrous police and prosecutorial misconduct was not known at the time of Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial and had it been available then or at his direct appeal it would have dealt a severe blow to the state’s case.

The information provided by Williams that police coerced witnesses including Cynthia White to give false testimony is further supported by photographs taken at the scene of Faulkner’s shooting in December 1981 which recently came to light. The 26 pictures by a freelance photographer reveal police manipulation of the scene and serve to discredit testimony of key prosecution witnesses.

The photographer also reported that eyewitnesses he interviewed at the scene immediately after the shooting claimed that Faulkner’s shooter fled the scene. Not knowing that Abu-Jamal had been shot and thinking he was the fleeing man, the photographer offered to provide his photographs and testimony to the prosecution, but was never called.

Challenges to death sentences on the rise

Abu-Jamal who has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for 25 years, is currently awaiting a ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on whether he will be granted a new trial, have his conviction overturned, or see his death sentence reinstated. The Third Circuit is one of the last appellate stops for death row inmates.

Abu-Jamal is one of many Pennsylvania inmates challenging death sentences. In the past seven years, 50 of Pennsylvania’s 225 death row prisoners have had their sentences overturned. Since 2000, about 75 have scored significant interim victories—new sentencing hearings or retrials, three only in recent weeks. The bulk of reversals have turned on legal errors in the original trials, and most were in Philadelphia cases dating to the early 1980s and early 1990s.

So far 24 of the reversals were in cases heard by now deceased Common Pleas Court Judge Albert Sabo, who presided over trials that ended in 32 death sentences including Mumia Abu-Jamal’s. Sabo, a notorious racist, was overheard by court stenographer Terri Maurer-Carter telling another judge regarding Abu-Jamal, “I’m going to help them fry the n***er.”

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, chief defender in Philadelphia from 1979 to 1990, told the July 1 Philadelphia Inquirer that city cases from the 1980s have been reversed for good reason: ‘The court system frequently trampled all over the rights of defendants.”