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Why Philly D.A. Abraham is called 'Queen of Death'

By Betsey Piette


Police Chief Bull Connor used dogs against civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham. Los Angeles Detective Mark Fuhrman manufactured evidence to try to convict O.J. Simpson. But neither has anything on Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham.

What has made Abraham so hated that she's earned the title "Queen of Death"?

Since Abraham's appointment as district attorney in 1991 by former Mayor Ed Rendell, she has put over 101 African Americans from Philadelphia on death row, more than any other city. A July 16, 1995, New York Times Magazine article labeled Lynne Abraham this country's "Deadliest D.A."

Abraham's zeal to demand the death penalty has resulted in over half of Pennsylvania's death row inmates being from this city, which is also notorious for its police brutality and corruption. Over 80 percent of them are Black.

When white racists attacked Black students at George Washington High School in January, Abraham pressed charges against only the African American victims, until public outrage forced her to back down. She has refused to try as adults white teenagers accused of raping a Black child, yet she has held an African American mentally handicapped child in an adult jail.

Spawned by Rizzo

Abraham got her start in 1972, when Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo appointed her to head the city's Redevelopment Authority. Rizzo, whose racist tenure as police commissioner led to a federal investigation of the city's police force, described Abraham as tough cookie."

Abraham began her own rise to infamy as a homicide prosecutor in the district attorney's office, working alongside Ed Rendell. Rendell later became district attorney from 1977 to 1985, then mayor, and last summer held a brief tenure as head of the National Democratic Party.

Yet another notorious cohort was D.A. Ron Castile, who oversaw the court proceedings that cleared all officials of guilt for the 1985 police bombing of the MOVE Organization. Castile also signed the documents in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence in the 1980s, and now sits on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In 1999, Castile refused to recuse himself from the case when Abu-Jamal appealed to that court for a new trial.

Protégé of Sabo

Abraham became a judge in 1975. She learned her trade from Judge Albert Sabo, who presided over Abu-Jamal's trial and hearings in the Court of Common Pleas in 1983. It was Judge Lynne Abraham who signed the arrest warrants in 1977 that led to a police assault against a MOVE house in west Philadelphia's Powelton Village section after months of police occupation and barricade of the surrounding neighborhood.

Nine MOVE members were sentenced to terms up to life for the death of a police officer who was most likely killed by a stray police bullet in that raid.

Judge Abraham's name again appears on 1985 arrest warrants for MOVE members that led to the murderous police bombing of the MOVE house on Osage Avenue. Eleven men, women and children in the Osage Avenue house were killed by a massive land and air attack by police on May 13, 1985. Many demonstrators at Abraham's recent campaign stops have chanted "baby killer" to remind people of her role in this deadly assault.

In 1981, it was Judge Abraham who went to Jefferson Hospital, where Mumia Abu-Jamal was being treated while under arrest, to arraign him personally for the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner.

As district attorney, Lynne Abraham has gone out of her way to protect the police against victims of their brutality. Her office has failed to convict any cops for the killings of Jamel Nichols, Kenneth Griffin, Phillip McCall, Moises DeJesus, Jahlil Thomas, Robert Jones or Erin Forbes. Not even in the vicious beating of Thomas Jones last summer, which was captured on live television, were any cops convicted.

In the case of Donta Dawson, Abraham has openly sought to thwart attempts by higher courts to bring charges against former Philadelphia Police Officer Christopher DiPasquale for the murder of this African American youth.

Abraham's office has also been tainted by the 39th Police District scandal. Hundreds of convictions were overturned and dozens of people released from prison after police frame-ups and faked evidence introduced by police and prosecutors against the African American community were exposed.

Abraham is running for re-election. An African American candidate, Alex Talmadge Jr., is challenging Abraham in the primary election May 15, targeting her racist record. Talmadge has also called for a moratorium on the death penalty and seems to be gaining support in the oppressed communities, prompting Abraham to run ads promoting herself as a "friend of the Black community."

Abraham's campaign organizers publicly accused Talmadge of "playing the race card." Recently they've launched a campaign to vilify Abu-Jamal and MOVE supporters by accusing them of using anti-Semitic slurs against Abraham. The press has chosen to focus on this unproven allegation rather than cover the growing support for Abu-Jamal and the Free Mumia/ Justice for MOVE encampment.

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