March 10, 2008

Update from Mumia Abu Jamal's lead counsel Robert Bryan

Dear Friends:

This is an update on the case of my client, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for over a quarter of a century.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia  We continue to await the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  I am in contact with the court, and will alert everyone immediately upon the issuance of a ruling.  Oral argument was on May 17, 2007, thus people ask why the court is taking so long.  This is a highly complex case involving issues of great constitutional significance  and a voluminous amount of material.  In three decades of successfully defending people in numerous murder cases involving the death penalty, I have not seen one more complicated.

It is impossible to know how the federal court will rule, but the briefing and arguments could not have gone better even though there have been problems due to mistakes by prior counsel.  If the federal court follows the mandate of the U.S. Constitution, the decision should be favorable.  However, Mumia's remains in jeopardy because courts are so unpredictable.

The pending issues, as set out in our federal briefing, are: 

  • Whether Mr. Abu-Jamal was denied the right to due process of law and a fair trial under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments because of the prosecutor’s “appeal-after-appeal” argument which encouraged the jury to disregard the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt, and err on the side of guilt.
  • Whether the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to exclude African Americans from sitting on the jury violated Mr. Abu-Jamal’s rights to due process and equal protection of the law under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, and contravened Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).
  • Whether the verdict form and jury instructions that resulted in the death penalty deprived Mr. Abu-Jamal of rights guaranteed by the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments to due process of law, equal protection of the law, and not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and violated Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988), since the judge precluded the jurors from considering any mitigating evidence unless they all agreed on the existence of  a particular circumstance.
  • Whether Mr. Abu-Jamal was denied due process and equal protection of the law under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments during post-conviction hearings as the result of the bias and racism of Judge Albert F. Sabo which included the comment that he was “going to help 'em fry the nigger”.

There are many scenarios of how the federal court might rule.  Among these are: (1) grant an entirely new jury trial; (2) order a new jury trial limited to the issue of life or death; (3) remand the case back to the U.S. District Court for further proceedings; or (4) deny everything, thereby leaving the death judgment intact.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court  For over two years we have been litigating issues in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding the prosecution falsely manipulating eyewitness testimony and fabricating evidence.  Recently the court denied relief.  (Commonwealth v. Abu-Jamal, ___ A.2d ___, 2008 WL 434567 (Pa. Feb. 19, 2008) .)  Mumia and I talked just after the ruling on February 19, and I then issued the following public statement:

"Mumia and I had a long conference this afternoon, shortly after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made its ruling. We were not surprised since that court has a history of not addressing the racism and fraud that has dominated the prosecution since its inception over a quarter of a century ago.  By dismissing the appeal on procedural grounds, the court avoided dealing with the compelling facts establishing that the prosecution of my client was based upon lies, half-truths, and bigotry.  It is sad that the state court used possible mistakes of the previous lawyers in the case as an excuse to dodge the truth.

This state ruling has no bearing on the proceedings pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  If the federal decision is favorable, then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court judgment will be moot. Otherwise, I plan to seek relief in the U.S. Supreme Court.  I will not rest until Mumia is free."

Germany  On January 12, 2008, I spoke on behalf of Mumia at the annual Rosa Luxemburg Conference in Berlin.  As I concluded, the thousands in attendance gave a long and enthusiastic ovation.  It was a nice tribute to my client who has become a symbol in the international struggle against the death penalty and human-rights abuses.  Mumia asks that I convey his gratitude to the many good people in Germany who work so tirelessly for justice.  These include especially his longtime German publisher and confidant Jürgen Heiser, the human-rights attorney Eberhard Schultz, Sabine Schubert, Petra Siemering, Victor Grossman, George and Doris Pumphrey, the distinguished actor Rolf Becker, the renowned Berlin filmmaker Thomas Giefer, the prominent writer Sabine Kebir, and German PEN.

France  Professor Claude Guillaumaud-Pujol has written an excellent book, Mumia Abu-Jamal, un homme libre dans le couloir de la mort, which was published late last year.  It has Mumia's endorsement, and has sold well.  Claude has donated the proceeds from her book to help the defense of Mumia in our struggle for his freedom.  The author represents the highest standard in the movement for she is totally committed to justice and the freedom of Mumia, and does not seek to exploit my client.  Mumia expresses his gratitude to Claude, Jacky Hortaut, Mireille Mendes-France, Jacques Lederer, the Collectif Unitaire National de Soutien à Mumia Abu-Jamal, Senator Nicole Borvo Cohen-Seat, the Paris Bar, and the many others in France who have done so much.

England  Mumia asked that I also thank Niki Adams, the legendary Selma James, and their colleagues at the Legal Action for Women, London, for their ongoing work on behalf of justice not only in England but throughout the world.  I am particularly indebted for their extraordinary commitment that has resulted in programs on Mumia in the Inns of Court and other British venues, a petition for justice and a new trial signed by over 100 prominent lawyers there, and drawning public attention to the injustice in this case.  And, of course, the efforts of Ian Mcdonald QC, Garden Court North Chambers, an outstanding barrister and friend, have been significant.

In Prison My Whole Life, British film  The new documentary film on Mumia, In Prison My Whole Life, has been shown at a number of prestigious film festivals, e.g., International Film Festival & Forum on Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland; Sundance Film Festival; Belfast Film Festival; London Film Festival; Rome Film Festival; Copenhagen International Film Festival; Dublin International Film Festival.  It was also recently screened by members of the House of Commons, London.  Mumia and I are grateful to Colin and Livia Firth, and their associates, for having the courage to make this extraordinary film.  They have my full support and that of my client, for this worthwhile film which deals with the larger issues of the death penalty, racism  and injustice.

Donations in the United States for Mumia's Legal Defense   With Mumia's authorization, a process exists which guarantees that U.S. donations go only to the legal defense, and are tax-deductible.  Checks should be made payable to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation (indicate "Mumia" on the bottom left), and mailed to:

Committee To Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
P.O. Box 2012
New York, NY 10159-2012

Conclusion  The issues in this case concern the right to a fair trial, the struggle against the death penalty, and the political repression of a courageous writer and journalist.  My goal is to win a new and fair trial for Mumia, and a jury acquittal upon his retrial.  I want him to go home to his family.  Nevertheless, Mumia is in great danger, for if all is lost he will be executed.  We must never forget that racism, fraud, and politics are threads that have run through this case since the beginning and continue today.

Your interest is appreciated.

Cordially yours,
Robert R. Bryan
Law Offices of Robert R. Bryan
2088 Union Street, Suite 4
San Francisco, California 94123-4117

Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal