Philadelphia Tribune - December 9, 2003
Abu-Jamal awaits justice
By Linn Washington Jr
Since Dec. 9, 1981 -- over 8,000 days from todays date -- prison cells
have caged one of America s most prolific and internationally respected
journalists: Mumia Abu-Jamal.
To some, the special hell of death row is appropriate justice for
Abu-Jamal, convicted of fatally shooting Philadelphia Police Officer
Daniel Faulkner during the pre-dawn hours on 12/9/81 .
To others, the documented misconduct by police, prosecutors, and judges
in Abu-Jamals case from his curbside arrest through numerous appellate
court reviews constitutes injustice in its most gross form.
Everything that is wrong with our legal system and death penalty is
evident in this case, says San Francisco lawyer Robert R. Bryan, the
veteran litigator who recently accepted Abu-Jamal as his client.
Ive never seen a case with so many problems in 30 years of death
penalty litigation, Bryan said during an interview last week. Bryan is
finalizing a new round of appeals for Abu-Jamal in Pennsylvania and
Interestingly, even among many of those convinced of Abu-Jamals guilt,
there is a strong belief that he did not receive a fair trial in the
courtroom proceeding that produced his first-degree murder conviction 21
This failure to follow centuries-old fundamental law guaranteeing
fairness in all trials is a clear contradiction of a ruling that the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued on 1/5/59 in a Philadelphia murder
case a ruling issued months before Abu-Jamals fourth birthday.
That 1959 ruling declared that every defendant is entitled to all the
safeguards of a fair trial as announced in the Constitution and the law
of the land
Procedures ensuring a fair trail must be followed, that 1959 ruling
emphasized, even if evidence piles as high as Mt. Everest the district
attorney conscientiously believes the defendant to be guilty as Cain
[and] no matter what certainty the Judge views the culpability of the
The rulings in the Abu-Jamal case by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have
perverted previous rulings in murder cases guaranteeing fair trials
issued by this court, according to a meticulously researched report
issued by the respected Amnesty International in February 2000.
The proceedings used to convict and sentence Mumia Abu-Jamal to death
were in violation of minimum international standards that govern fair
trial procedures and the use of the death penalty, stated the AI report
that called for granting Abu-Jamal a new trial -- a corrective measure
thus far rejected by state and federal courts.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court appears to have ignored its own
previous rulings in denying Abu-Jamals appeals, the AI report noted.
The refusal of the AI report to recognize Abu-Jamal as a political
prisoner -- a person imprisoned to quash their political activities --
contradicts conservative claims that it is biased.
Abu-Jamal supporters cite his stature as a political prisoner as a key
pillar in their protests.
In October 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued another ruling,
dismissing disturbing evidence of racist bias by the trial judge in
Abu-Jamals case, Albert Sabo.
This ruling brushed aside an affidavit from a white court stenographer
who alleged she and her boss -- a Philadelphia judge -- overheard Sabo
saying he was going to help them fry the nigger shortly before the
start of Abu-Jamals trial.
This recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling stated Sabos racist
statement amounted to nothing more than another charge of Sabos
pro-prosecution bias fair-trial-corrupting antics that the states
high court has previously rejected.
This ruling is absurd, said attorney Bryan, who plans to re-appeal the
ruling on Sabos racism.
Racism is a thread in this case from the point of arrest, Bryan
continued. It is unique to have an admission of poison oozing out of a
judges mouth. The rationale used by this court makes no sense.
Many court rulings in Abu-Jamals case make little legal sense.
When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court first upheld Abu-Jamals conviction
in 1989, that ruling found no impropriety in the prosecutor using
Abu-Jamals teenage membership in the Black Panther Party to claim he
harbored a desire to kill a cop for over a decade despite Abu-Jamal
having no criminal record.
Four months after that 1989 ruling, the justice who wrote the ruling
rejecting Abu-Jamals appeal harshly criticized his colleagues for
allowing a prosecutor to use another murder defendants 9-year-old
robbery conviction for impeachment purposes.
Over a dozen weeks after this justice found no legal improprieties in
using Abu-Jamals BPP membership for impeachment, he roared that using
the robbery conviction was an inherently prejudicial error.
One of the many ironies in the Abu-Jamal case is that the 1982 jury
never considered much of the now-known evidence questioning guilt due to
legally questionable actions by police, prosecutors, and Judge Sabo.
That 1959 ruling noted that neither a judge nor prosecutors may
restrict the jurys possible conclusions
Another irony is that in this case of a journalist, fraught with
injustice, little thorough investigative journalism has occurred from
the media tasked with being societys justice-defending watchdog.
Its very clear that Philadelphia s [mainstream] media takes the
position that Mumia is a cop killer, says media scholar Dr. Todd Burroughs.
Philadelphia media, for example, ignored the Amnesty International report.
Burroughs, who is authoring a journalists biography of Abu-Jamal,
emphasizes that this case is important because America keeps trying to
deal with issues of social justice without addressing blatant unjust
incidents like the Abu-Jamal case.
Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning writer who teaches journalism at
Temple University .