Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!
“Don’t tell me about the valley of the shadow of death. I live there.”
So begins the book Live from Death Row, by acclaimed writer and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row for over 15(article published November 1998)years for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer. An award-winning journalist, political activist and one-time member of the Black Panther Party, Mumia has faced one miscarriage of justice after another.
In 1981, Mumia stopped a cab he was riding in to try to stop a police officer from assaulting a Black man. The man turned out to be Abu-Jamal’s brother – stopped for a minor traffic violation. According to eyewitnesses, an unidentified person shot at officer Daniel Faulkner and fled. Mumia was shot in the chest by Faulkner. Witnesses say that Mumia was left bleeding on the curb for 45 minutes while police officers took turns beating him.
He was charged with the murder of Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death in 1982. But from the start the case was full of holes:
* Ballistic experts never matched any of the bullets found in Faulkner’s body or anywhere on the scene to the gun that allegedly belonged to Mumia. The bullet in Faulkner’s brain was a .44-caliber, whereas the gun police say belonged to Mumia was a .38.
* Police tested the murder weapon for fingerprints but didn’t find Mumia’s. And Mumia’s hands were never tested for powder burns which would indicate he had fired a weapon.
* Several police witnesses testified that Mumia had confessed on the night of the shooting. But the arresting officer’s report mentions no confession. He was conveniently on vacation during the trial, and Judge Albert Sabo rejected a motion to postpone the proceedings until his return.
* Of more than 125 witnesses interviewed by police, prosecutors found only two who identified Mumia as the person who shot Faulkner. Both witnesses were facing other criminal charges, making them vulnerable to threats – and deals – from the prosecution. One, Cynthia White, changed her story several times before implicating Mumia in the killing.
* One defense witness, Veronica Jones, testified that police offered her and one of the prosecution witnesses a deal: finger Mumia in court and they could continue to work as prostitutes without being arrested. Judge Sabo ordered these remarks stricken from the court record.
* Another witness, a white cab driver named Robert Chobert, first reported to police that the shooter was 225 pounds and “ran away” from the scene. Why Chobert changed his story became clear 13 years later, when he admitted that at the time of the shooting he had been driving a taxi cab without a license while on probation for felony arson. Years later, he was still driving his cab without a license, unhindered by police.
* Four witnesses said that they saw a man other than Mumia flee from the scene of the crime.
The trial was held in Philadelphia – a city where 1,200 cases of police misconduct are under review. More than 300 convictions by Philadelphia courts have been overturned because of manufactured or planted evidence used by police to frame innocent people. At least 137 people have already been found innocent and released from prison after their cases were reviewed.
The judge in Mumia’s case, Judge Albert Sabo, has sentenced thirty-two people to death – more than twice the number of people than any other judge in this country. All but two were people of color. The American Lawyer described him as “oozing partiality toward the prosecution” during the Mumia case.
Mumia’s 1989 appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was overturned, and his death sentence upheld.
In Mumia’s 1990 appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the right of prosecutors to use Mumia’s past affiliation with the Black Panther Party in their case against him. Yet 17 months later, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of a Delaware man because prosecutors had presented at his sentencing hearing evidence of his affiliation with the fascist Aryan Brotherhood.
In June 1995, Mumia filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief (PCRA) seeking a new trial. The evidentiary hearing on his PCRA was held before Judge Sabo, who (surprise!) denied the petition. Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge set an execution date for August of that year, but Mumia got a stay of execution – in large part because of large-scale national and international protest.
Meanwhile, Mumia’s defense lawyers have uncovered an avalanche of evidence backing Mumia’s innocence.
Mumia appealed Sabo’s decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Last August the court sent Mumia’s case back to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for additional testimony regarding police misconduct.
On October 1, 1996, Veronica Jones came forward and testified that she had been pressured by police to lie in Mumia’s trial. Just as she took the stand to testify to this, Sabo threatened her with seven years in prison for perjury if she gave two conflicting versions under oath. Undeterred, she testified. At the end of her testimony, District Attorney Fisk called in two police officers and had her arrested in the courtroom for having missed a two-year-old court date!
Then, in last June’s hearings, Pamela Jenkins, a 16-year-old prostitute and police informant in 1981, testified that she was pressured by police officer Tom Ryan (who was her boyfriend at the time) to identify Mumia as the shooter, even though she was not present at the scene of Faulkner’s death.
Now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has denied his appeal for a new trial. Mumia’s lawyers will appeal his case at the federal level. Meanwhile, Gov. Ridge has vowed to set a new execution date for Mumia as soon as possible.
Mumia’s attorney Leonard Weinglass recently wrote: “For more than 15 years, Mumia, who has lived in the shadow of death, has asserted his innocence. The new information brought in the last two years… supports that claim.
“Once again, the American system of criminal justice is being challenged by issues of race, class and politics. The life of a Black political activist lies threatened by those same forces who have historically urged a national system of intimidation and control.
“Nothing short of a complete vindication for Mumia Abu-Jamal, already too late after 15 years of tortuous incarceration, will prevent yet another injustice in a history already saturated with the blood of innocents.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row since July 3, 1982 – (9956 days or 27 years, 3 months, 2 days)
(Note: the word “ni – – er” was spelled as such in order guarantee that this message would not be blocked by certain email filters if this text were to be copied and forwarded via email).
Date: June 6, 2009
From: Robert R. Bryan, lead counsel
Subject: Mumia Abu-Jamal, death row, Pennsylvania
In recent months there have been significant legal developments concerning my client, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for nearly three decades. We are presently litigating on his behalf in both the United States Supreme Court and the trial court, the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia.
Mumia’s life on the line in this monumental struggle. He is in the greatest danger since his arrest in 1981.
Like so many on death row, Mumia has been a victim of poverty, racial bigotry, fraud, inadequate legal representation, and an unfair trial. The trial judge was a racist who referred to my client as a “ni – – er” whom he was going to help the prosecution “fry.” Prior case lawyers failed to investigate and present pivotal issues both at trial and in the post-conviction process, thereby limiting what could be considered by the Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. Below is a brief summary of case developments.
U.S. Supreme Court, Washington There have been two separate cases pending in the Supreme Court concerning Mumia. One involves strictly the death penalty, while the other concerns the prosecution’s use of racism in jury selection.
Abu-Jamal v. Beard, U.S. Sup. Ct. No. 08-8483 This case related to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s use of racism in selecting the jury that decided both the question of guilt and whether my client should die. The prosecutor used 66.67% of his available strikes to exclude African Americans from sitting on the jury. A judge in the lower federal court determined there was clear evidence that the prosecutor’s strikes of black people was race-based and thus unconstitutional. The dissenting justice in a 2-1 decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, found overwhelming evidence of racism by the prosecutor. (Abu-Jamal v. Horn, 520 F.3d 272 (3rd Cir. 2008).) He explained that the “core guarantee of equal protection, ensuring citizens that their State will not discriminate on account of race, would be meaningless were we to approve the exclusion of jurors on the basis of . . . race. . . . I respectfully dissent.”
On April 6, 2009, the Supreme Court declined to hear our case. This came as a profound disappointment and shock, even though the court rejects 98-99% of cases presented for review. Mumia’s case was exceptional, especially in view of the powerful dissenting decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals. Our strong constitutional position was bolstered by briefing from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, which I had invited into the case to address the racism issue. Tragically the court turned its back on it own case law which held that racism in jury selection offends the U.S. Constitution and mandates a new trial. Our extensive briefing had laid out the overwhelming evidence establishing the prosecutor’s race-based behavior and the racially-charged atmosphere of the trial. On May 1, I submitted a Petition for Rehearing which has been rejected.
Beard v. Abu-Jamal, Sup. Ct. No. 08-652 We are still litigating in the Supreme Court inm an entirely separate case in which the prosecution is seeking to overturn the victory achieved last year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In that ruling the court ordered a new jury trial on the question of the death penalty. Both sides have gone back and forth in briefing in the Supreme Court. Due to developments in another case with a similar issue, it may be several months before Mumia’s case is decided. If we win, then there will be a new jury trial. In the event of an adverse decision, the prosecution would push for a quick execution.
Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia, Commonwealth v. Abu-Jamal, Nos. 1357-1359 On April 20, 2009, we filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus Relief in the trial court, the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. At issue is the fact that Mumia was convicted on the basis of unreliable and incomplete expert ballistics testimony presented by the prosecution during the 1982 trial. We have also moved for discovery of all related evidence possessed by the prosecution.
Other Developments in Europe and the United States In this country t he support and activism of the National Lawyers Guild has been crucial on our work on behalf of Mumia. The cry for justice in the case of Mumia continues to be particularly strong in Europe. As an example, on May 17, 2009 a feature article datelined Paris appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. The piece is reprinted at the the end of this Legal Update and available online with photographs at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/05/16/MN4517CARS.DTL. It describes the activism of committed French human-rights activists on behalf of Mumia which has drawn considerable attention in the U.S.
United States Many people have heard about the support for Mumia by the National Lawyers Guild, headquartered in New York with chapters across the country, but know little of the details. Since its founding in 1937 the NLG has provided legal support to a wide range of legal and social movements, starting with drafting New Deal legislation and aiding in the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the United Auto Workers (UAW). It has actively supported labor rights and played a central role in defending individuals targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. NLG lawyers, legal workers and law students participated in the Civil Rights movement and opened “people’s law offices” in the South. In the 1990s and into the new millennium the organization’s scope widened to include protecting individual rights against the increasing dominance of corporations, legal defense at mass demonstrations, and training lawyers about developments in the law such as newly developing anti-terrorism legislation. The NLG aggressively opposes the death penalty, and many of its attorneys specialize in capital defense work. That included the legal effort to save Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were executed June 19,1953 in New York. Each year the NLG features a “Student Day Against the Death Penalty,” and actively assists 100 student chapters in hosting public education events to raise awareness of the multitude of problems with the death penalty and to work toward its abolition. Law professor members and students have hosted hundreds of events featuring leading capital defense attorneys and former death-row inmates, and the NLG provides an organizing kit to students to help facilitate events against capital punishment.
Mumia’s case has been a national priority of the NLG for over two decades. For many years he has served on the Board of Directors as Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President. At the annual conventions numerous resolutions have been passed seeking a new and fair trial and over the years the NLG has co-sponsored events around the country related to his case. Three years ago I invited the Guild to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on his behalf. Thereafter a brief was submitted on the issue of the death penalty and other issues by Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director, a member professor from George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and others in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Further, Ms Boghosian, an outstanding lawyer, has been active is assisting me in the representation of Mumia for many years, and has joined me in a number of client meetings. Mumia has enormous respect and trust for her and the NLG.
Germany In Berlin on March 27, the prestigious Akademie der Künst (Academy of Arts), located two doors from the U.S. Embassy at the Brandenburg Gate, hosted an outstanding panel discussion on Mumia as a journalist, author, and political prisoner. It originated from the efforts of the writer Sabine Kebir, PEN, and Nicole Bryan. The audience filled the auditorium. Participating in the human-rights event, was: Madame Danielle Mitterrand, former First Lady of France; Klaus Staeck, President of the Akademie; Johano Strasser, President of PEN Germany; Günter Wallraff, a well known author; Gerhart Rudolf Baum, former Minister of the Interior, the Bundestag (parliament), and United Nations representative; and me. A video of the entire event is available on the Internet, at: http://www.adk.de/de/aktuell/forum_dokumentationen/forum_27.Akadgespr.html. The commitment of supporters in Germany is a model of activism, especially those in Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen.
France The movement for Mumia in France is excellent. It is led by the Collectif “Ensemble Sauvons Mumia Abu-Jamal” (Together We Will Save Mumia Abu-Jamal), composed of approximately 80 organizations. In Prison My Whole Life, the outstanding film on Mumia, is being shown in theaters throughout the country and continues to draw acclaim at film festivals. In Paris on March 15, it was awarded the Grand Prix and the Planete Prix at the Film Festival of Human Rights (Le Festival International du Film des Droits de l’Homme). In my two speeches at the awards ceremony, I accepted the prizes not only on behalf of Mumia, but also “for all the men, women and children who are on death rows around the world.” The movie was also featured at the Amnesty International, a past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a sponsor of the film. Claude Guillaumaud-Pujol, author of Mumia Abu-Jamal: The Voice of the Voiceless, and I spoke after each presentation. The movie was also featured in the Lyon International Film Festival last October. Mumia is grateful to Jacky Hortaut and the many supporters in France who do so much in the cause of justice.
Netherlands On April 3 and and 4, In Prison My Whole Life was shown at Amnesty International’s Movies That Matter film festival in The Hague and Amsterdam. Nicole and I participated in both events. There was a panel discussion following each showing in which Arlette Stuip, who attended Goddard College with Mumia, Ms. Guillaumaud-Pujol, and I discussed the case and answered questions.
Donations for Mumia’s Legal Defense in the U.S. Our legal effort is the front line of the battle for Mumia’s freedom and life. His legal defense needs help. The costs are substantial for our litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court and at the state level. To help, please make your checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation (indicate “Mumia” on the bottom left). All donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Code Code, section 501(c)(3), and should be mailed to:
Committee To Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
P.O. Box 2012
New York, NY 10159-2012
Conclusion It is outrageous and a violation of human rights that Mumia remains in prison and on death row. His life hangs in the balance. My career has been marked by successfully representing people facing death in murder cases. I will not rest until we win Mumia’s case. Justice requires no less.
With best wishes,
Robert R. Bryan
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal
San Francisco Chronicle
French Still Rally to Abu-Jamal’s Cause
Mary Papenfuss, Chronicle Foreign Service
Sunday, May 17, 2009
(05-17) 04:00 PDT Paris – — An ardent group of activists who meet weekly to protest the imprisonment of a death-row inmate, chanted slogans, shouted into microphones and held up printed banners. They could have been Bay Area residents in front of San Quentin before an execution, but they wore Chloé flats, spoke French, gathered near the Seine River and yelledliberté for a man languishing 3,700 miles away in a Pennsylvania prison.
While Mumia Abu-Jamal, 55, has been excoriated as a vicious cop killer in Philadelphia, he has been a cause-celebre in France for years.
In 2001, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe declared him an honorary citizen, adding Abu-Jamal to a list of notables such as Pablo Picasso and the Dalai Lama. In 2006, the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis named a street after him, prompting the city of Philadelphia to file a “crime of denial” grievance under an 1881 French law.
Late last year, Abu-Jamal’s San Francisco attorney, Robert R. Bryan, received a medal from the city of Lyon for his work against the death penalty. At a news conference, Bryan joined Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of former President Francois Mitterrand, to speak to Abu-Jamal by cell phone at a palatial 17th century city hall.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to order a new trial 27 years after Abu-Jamal’s 1982 conviction for killing 25-year-old Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, who now lives in Southern California, said she wept after the decision. “I’ve been haunted by the Free Mumia movement,” she has told reporters. “He murdered my husband in cold blood.”
Her sentiment and the court’s decision, however, haven’t discouraged Abu-Jamal’s European supporters, whose rallies often eclipse those held in New York and San Francisco. Along with Paris, he has been given the status of honorary citizen in some 20 other cities, including Palermo, Sicily, and is an honorary member of Berlin’s Association of Those Persecuted by the Nazi Regime.
Most of his ardent European backers believe he didn’t receive a fair trial and is innocent. Others are simply against the death penalty. Currently, Belarus is the only European country that still uses capital punishment.
“He’s innocent,” said Abdel Chaoui, a 56-year-old resident of Saint-Denis. “If he’s not, he shouldn’t be put to death … he has served enough time.”
Although French activists have lobbied for the release of other U.S. prisoners – at last month’s rally, protesters also collected signatures demanding a new trial for American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of two FBI agents – no other inmate galvanizes the French public like Abu-Jamal.
Some observers attribute such support to France’s love affair with African Americans who sought refuge from U.S. racism, such as dancer Josephine Baker, writer Richard Wright, singer Paul Robeson and poet Langston Hughes. Many French supporters are convinced American institutions are inherently racist.
In addition, Abu-Jamal “is uniquely articulate for a death-row inmate,” said UCLA political science Professor Mark Sawyer. “The idea of someone of his intellectual heft on death row makes some think of him as a condemned philosopher.”
Before his arrest, Abu-Jamal had no previous criminal record. He had been a member of the Black Panther Party and had worked as a cab driver and radio journalist. He has continued writing behind bars and recently published his sixth book -“Jailhouse Lawyers” published by San Francisco’s City Lights Publishers, making him a compelling poster child for death-penalty protesters.
Meanwhile, San Francisco attorney Bryan is convinced that European support will help his client avoid the death penalty and win a new trial.
“International support is crucial. If protests on Mumia’s behalf are heard on the other side of the Atlantic, it has a major effect,” he said. “Judges try to be impervious to public sentiment. But they’re not machines; fortunately, they’re human.”
The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal
On death row since a 1982 conviction for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer, Mumia Abu-Jamal has received much attention both at home and abroad.
Hollywood celebrities such as Martin Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Moore, Ed Asner and Edward James Olmos have called for a new trial. The American rock band Rage Against The Machine have sung his praises in “Voice of the Voiceless.” British actor Colin Firth produced a 2007 documentary about his case called “In Prison My Whole Life.”
Abu-Jamal supporters say somebody else shot the police officer, his court-appointed lawyer was incompetent and several witnesses have contradicted themselves over the years. In a 2000 report, Amnesty International said trial evidence was “contradictory and incomplete,”
But critics say Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, shot the police officer, four witnesses testified that he was the gunman, and shell casings from his .38-caliber gun were found at the crime scene. Moreover, police say he confessed to the crime while recuperating from his wounds in a hospital bed.
Few, however, argue that a police officer named Daniel Faulkner pulled over a Volkswagen driven by William Cook, Abu-Jamal’s brother on Dec, 9, 1981, for a traffic violation. Faulkner soon called for backup, but was dead from gunshot wounds to the back and face by the time other officers arrived. Police found Abu-Jamal nearby in the cab he drove lying in a pool of his own blood from a gunshot wound to the chest. Abu-Jamal has long said he saw Faulkner beating his brother, and when he went to his aid the officer shot him.
Over the years, state and federal courts have denied various appeals for a retrial and a habeas corpus review. The courts have also denied claims that witnesses perjured themselves and that Abu-Jamal had ineffectual counsel. In the latest decision last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court ruling that upheld his conviction, rejecting the argument that prosecutors sought to exclude black people from the jury. Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of 10 whites and two blacks.
Abu-Jamal’s San Francisco lawyer, Robert R. Bryan has filed a petition for a Supreme Court rehearing in the case, and is considering challenging ballistics findings in a separate action. The court has yet to consider a lower court ruling that set aside the death penalty. That ruling has been appealed by Philadelphia authorities, leaving Abu-Jamal on death row.
“We’re closer to meeting the executioner,” said Bryan.
E-mail Mary Papenfuss at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A – 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle