The impact
of the Effective Death Penalty Act on Mumia's case

Although Mumia's attorneys are struggling heroically through legal means to win him a new trial, new repressive laws make it virtually impossible for death row inmates to win appeals. This is why Mumia's attorneys are urging the people's movement to raise the level of activity to free him. With the impending federal Habeas Corpus appeal, Mumia Abu-Jamal's supporters are now hoping that justice might finally be served in the federal courts. Since 1978, federal judges have been responsible for reversing 40% of all death sentences in the United States. These numbers are enticing, especially given the lack of justice, the appalling record on race, and the mistreatment of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the racist Pennsylvania state courts. Federal judges exist outside of the "old boy network" of the Pennsylvania courts and are not beholden to outside influences in the same way that the state judges are. With all of this in mind it could be easy to become complacent in our own endeavors to see Mumia freed, and optimistic in the federal court's role in the administration of justice. It cannot be emphasized enough however, that these attitudes are dangerous and could mean death for Mumia if we allow them to go unchallenged. The idea that justice can be found in the federal courts, especially in relation to capital cases, comes from a time now past. The federal appeals process in the last several years has undergone an attack by the pro-death penalty forces whose goal is to see an increased number of executions in a shorter period of time. The erosion of the appeals process can be traced to April, 1996 when Congress passed into law the "Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (EDPA)" in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. Although heralded as an attempt to battle domestic terrorism by giving the government, courts and police authorities expanded powers of repression, one of the central elements of the law was a measure calling for historic restrictions on habeas corpus - the rights of prisoners to appeal their convictions and sentences in federal courts. Although advocates for this law attempted to characterize the restrictions as mere reforms, in reality habeas corpus was gutted along with the ability of federal judges to overturn the death sentences handed down by the state courts. Historically, habeas corpus protections emerged from the period of reconstruction following the Civil War. The Habeas Corpus Act of 1867 was designed to give newly freed African Americans federal protection from states that would use the criminal justice system to manipulate and coerce them back to the plantations they had left behind. These protections have played an important role over the past decade, and have allowed many inmates falsely sentenced to death to establish their innocence, or illustrate violations of their constitutional rights. History is chock full of examples of citizens who have been falsely sentenced to death. On October 21, 1993, The Dallas Morning News published an article on the House Subcommittee's report that Texas and 16 other states were condemning innocent men to death. The report listed five Texas inmates who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. "Randell Dale Adams was wrongfully convicted for killing a police officer in Dallas, but he was released in 1989 when documents were discovered that proved prosecutors withheld favorable evidence. Clarence Brandley was wrongfully convicted of killing a white teenager in Conroe. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his conviction after it was discovered the Texas Rangers instructed the witnesses to commit perjury." Years later another man confessed to murdering the teenager. "Vernon McManus was convicted [of] Murder-for-hire. He was released after it was discovered that his trial attorney was dating Mrs. McManus during the trial and subsequently married [her]... John Skelton was released in 1990 when the Court of Criminal Appeals found the evidence was insufficient to prove the case against him." (Jerry Lee Hogue, http://www.lampofhope.org/tdrj7k.html) The report cited racial prejudice, official misconduct, withholding favorable evidence, shoddy legal representation, inadequate post-trial review of innocent claims, and the politicization of the clemency process as factors associated with wrongful convictions. The report went on to state that ".a substantial number of death row prisoners are indeed innocent." The EDPA altered the federal appeals process in several ways. First, it limited the time in which death row inmates have to file their petitions in the federal courts to 180 days after the finality of their state sentences. Because it often takes years to put together a successful appeal, this new law creates a situation in which the wrongfully convicted are put to death without an opportunity to sufficiently investigate or collect the necessary evidence to prove their innocence. In the case of Andrew Mitchell, it took attorneys 11 years to collect the evidence that proved Mitchell's innocence. It took the attorneys for Clarence Brandley 9 years to prove his innocence. If the EDPA had existed then Mitchell and Brandley would both be dead. The EDPA also requires the federal courts to assume that findings of fact by the state courts are true. This is the most dangerous element of the EDPA in relation to Mumia's case. In his state court proceedings ruled over by Judge Albert Sabo, Mumia was barred from presenting significant evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct, of eyewitness testimony, and of forensic evidence. This evidence is absolutely crucial in proving Mumia's innocence, as well as in illustrating the FOP and Philadelphia conspiracy to see Mumia put to death. While federal courts in the past were able to consider the evidence of a case while evaluating an appeal, under the EDPA they are not supposed to look at the evidence and are to assume that the state court's findings are true. In order for a federal court to question the "presumed correctness" of a state court, the defendant must now "rebut the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." Clear and convincing evidence places the burden of proof on the defendant. For Mumia to be granted a hearing on the state court's denial of his rights, he must now essentially prove his innocence first. The EDPA limits defendants to no more than one review by a federal court, and requires the lower federal court to grant a "certificate of appealability" before the defendant can appeal to a higher federal court. This is designed to rush death row inmates through the appeals process and into the execution chamber. The habeas corpus "reforms" brought about by the Effective Death Penalty Act are currently being challenged in the Supreme Court by Bobby Joe Williams, a death row inmate. The case was argued on October 4, 1999. Although it is hard to predict when the Supreme Court will issue its decision on this case, it is expected to be before the end of the year and is sure to have a profound effect on Mumia's case. His attorneys have stated that they are hopeful by virtue of the questions that were asked by several of the justices, including Justice Ginsberg and Justice Kennedy that the Supreme Court has taken a dim view of the arguments that were proffered to eviscerate the protections of federal habeas corpus. Should the Supreme Court uphold the EDPA habeas "reforms", then it seems unlikely that Mumia will find justice in the federal courts. Such a decision would render federal court appeals virtually moot. The conspiracy to execute Mumia Abu-Jamal is of such a large scale, that to place our hope for his release in the same corrupt, racist, political machine that has held him captive for eighteen years is to sentence him to death. The Fraternal Order of Police has extended their hand into every pocket and are working overtime to silence Mumia's voice, to keep the truth from coming out, and overall to ensure that Mumia does not survive. The FOP has been at the center of Mumia's case from the beginning, and continues to drive Mumia towards the death chamber at an alarming speed. The police officers that fabricated Mumia's confession were tied to the FOP. The officers who intimidated, threatened and coerced witnesses to remain silent or give false testimony were associated with the FOP. Judge Sabo, who presided over nearly all of Mumia's state court appearances, was a member of the FOP. Five out of seven of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who denied a new trial for Mumia in the state courts had been endorsed by the FOP in their campaigns for positions in the high court. In a November 10, 1999 article that appeared in the Village Voice, it is reported that the Pennsylvania state senate rejected a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania. Even more striking was the senate's refusal to order a study of whether the death penalty was being administered fairly. This is particularly shocking given the fact that it occurred in a state where both the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Bar Associations have called for moratoriums on capital punishment until such a time as it can be "administered in a fair and impartial manner." The Pennsylvania Bar Association noted that "Pennsylvania Department of Corrections statistics raise a serious concern that people of color and men are sentenced to death at a rate which substantially exceeds the rate at which Caucasians and women are sentenced to death." The Village Voice went on to report that five abolitionists went to meet with Joseph Loeper, the senate's Republican Majority Leader to gather more information about the Republican-led defeat of the amendment. When questioned about his vote, the Reverend Jeffrey Garis, a minister in the Brethren in Christ Church, quoted Loeper as saying, "The second factor was Mumia. Governor Ridge had just signed a warrant for him, and his case is a significant issue for many of us in the suburbs of Philadelphia." "Loeper's remarks unnerved Garis, who had observed a large plaque festooning a wall in the senator's office. It was a commendation from the Fraternal Order of Police." (Village Voice) As a movement, we must be clear that these are the forces working against us, controlling the media, and undermining our efforts. Without a broad, large scale people's campaign Mumia will never find justice in the courts and will never be freed. We must continue to organize, demonstrate, and raise our voices in anger over the injustice that Mumia has faced. If we allow them to execute our brother, friend and ally it will have far-reaching ramifications that will effect all of us, and every issue that we fight for. It will reinforce, and cement what we already know: that truth has no place in this country, that justice does not exist, and through repression, tyranny and violence the state will attempt to ignore and silence our voices. Mumia has always fought for the oppressed, the powerless, and the voiceless. He is on death row for all of us. Those of us on the outside must be there for him as well. We cannot let them kill Mumia Abu-Jamal!!!

Issued by National People's Campaign . West Coast: 2489 Mission St., Room 28, San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 821-6545 web: www.actionsf.org
email: npc@actionsf.org
Seattle: 1218 E. Cherry St., Seattle 98122 (206) 325-0085 Research & analysis by Josh Trentor

 

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