The Black World Today | Sunday, 07 December 2003 21:45

8,000 Days And Counting:
Justice Delayed In Abu-Jamal Case


Written by By Linn Washington Jr.

(Special to TBWT)

After thirty years of doing death penalty litigation, San Francisco attorney Robert R. Bryan is not surprised to find cases ridiculed with misconduct by authorities intent on securing convictions irrespective of evidence of innocence.

However, the extraordinary amount of official improprieties in the case Bryan recently accepted surprises even this veteran litigator. Bryan's new client is death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.

"Everything that is wrong with our legal system and death penalty is evident in this case," Bryan said during a recent interview.

"I've never seen a case with so many problems in thirty-years of death penalty litigation," continued Bryan

December 9, 2003 is the twenty-second anniversary of the date of Abu-Jamal's 1981 arrest for the fatal shooting of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

"Our goal is to reverse the [murder] conviction, not just get Mumia off death row," said Bryan, who is finalizing a new round of appeals for Abu-Jamal in Pa state and federal courts.

Since Abu-Jamal's 12/9/81 arrest - that included a vicious beating by Philadelphia police officers - this author/intellectual has spent over 8,000 days in Pa prison cells - more time than the national average for persons serving murder sentences (15-20-years).

Abu-Jamal's two decades of solitary death row confinement is a literal lifetime for a person widely considered as a victim of injustice.

"The record in this case indicates a pattern of events that compromised Abu-Jamal's right to a fair trial," stated an Amnesty International report issued in February 2000.

These fair trial corroding events included, "irregularities in the police investigation…the prosecution's presentation of the case [and] the appearance of bias" by the trial and appellate judges, the AI report noted.

Pa's Supreme Court has repeatedly issued rulings upholding the sanctity of a 'fair trial.'

The failure of Pa's highest court to rule against the clear violations of Abu-Jamal's fair trial rights is an issue that troubles attorney Bryan.

A Pa Supreme Court ruling, issued on January 5, 1959 involving the actions of a judge and a prosecutor during a Philadelphia murder trial, declared that every defendant is "entitled to all the safeguards of a fair trial…even if evidence [of guilt] piles as high as Mt. Everest…"

This 1959 Pa high court ruling upholding the "law" on defendants receiving their constitutional rights to a fair trial occurred months before Abu-Jamal's fourth birthday. Abu-Jamal was born in Philadelphia on April 23, 1954.

The Amnesty report slammed the Pa Supreme Court for ignoring "its own previous precedents in denying" Abu-Jamal's appeals.

Interestingly, while the Pa Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected charges of official misconduct in the Abu-Jamal case, that Court has given relief to convicted murders in other high-profile cases where their appeals cited comparable claims of improprieties.

In November 1999 for example, the Pa Supreme Court released two Philadelphia mobsters convicted of murdering a union leader after finding that deliberate misconduct by Philadelphia prosecutors denied these gangsters "a fair trial."

In 1992, the Pa Supreme Court released a former high school principal convicted of murdering a teacher at his school during an incident that resulted in a book and a made for TV movie. The Supreme Court ruled that deliberate misconduct by police and prosecutors against Jay Smith prohibited his retrial.

The Pa Supreme Court's pattern of rejecting documented instances of misconduct in the Abu-Jamal case left AI investigators with the "disturbing impression that the Court invented a new standard of procedure to apply it to one case only: that of Mumia Abu-Jamal."

Attorney Bryan said one of his first legal actions will challenge the October 2003 ruling by the Pa Supreme Court dismissing disturbing evidence of racist bias by the judge at Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial, Albert Sabo.


This recent Supreme Court 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-Jamal's trial.

This recent high court ruling stated Sabo's racist statement amounted to nothing more than another charge of Sabo's pro-prosecution bias - fair trial corrupting antics that Pa's high court has previously rejected as proof of undermining Abu-Jamal's fair trial rights.

"This ruling is absurd," said attorney Bryan.


"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 judge's mouth. The rationale used by this Court makes no sense."

Sabo, during the 1982 trial, "appeared to be more concerned with expediency than fairness," stated the Amnesty report.

Bryan also says he intends to challenge evidence of racism in the jury selection practices of the prosecution during Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial, in a federal court appeal.

The prosecutor handling Abu-Jamal's trial "used 11 of 15 peremptory strikes to remove African Americans from the jury," the AI reported detailed.

Statistical studies of Philadelphia jury trials, conducted by scholars and published in prestigious law journals, have documented racist jury selection practices by Philly prosecutors in the years before, during and after Abu-Jamal's trial.

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.

For example, because of the prosecution improperly withholding evidence, the jury never heard that the medical examiners initial autopsy report listed the murder weapon as a larger caliber gun than the pistol found at Abu-Jamal's side.


That 1959 Pa Supreme Court ruling declared neither a judge nor prosecutors may "restrict the jury's 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 society's justice defending 'watchdog.'


"It's 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 2000 Amnesty International report.


Burroughs, who is authoring a journalist biography on Abu-Jamal, emphasizes that this case is important because America "keeps trying to deal with issues of social justice" without addressing blatant incidents of injustice like the Abu-Jamal case.