An interview with author
J. Patrick O’Connor

The Framing
of Mumia
Abu-Jamal

By Hans Bennett

Following are excerpts from an April 11 interview conducted by Hans Bennett, a Philadelphia journalist and co-founder
of Journalists for Mumia. Go to www. Abu-Jamal-News.com to read the interview in its entirety.


On March 27, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against granting a new guilt-phase trial to world-famous
journalist and death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. While ruling against the three issues that could have led to a new guilt-phase trial, the court affirmed U.S. District Court Judge Yohn’s 2001 decision overturning the death sentence. If the district attorney wants to reinstate the death sentence, the D.A. must call for a new penalty-phase jury trial that would be limited to the question of life in prison without a chance of parole or a reinstatement of the death sentence.

At this critical juncture in Abu-Jamal’s
case, an explosive new book is set for
release in May, titled “The Framing
of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” by J. Patrick
O’Connor, and published by Lawrence
Hill Books. O’Connor explains that he was “an associate editor for TV Guide at its headquarters in nearby Radnor, Pa., during the time Officer Faulkner was killed and Abu-Jamal was put on trial and convicted of murdering him…. Sometime in the mid-1990s I began hearing and seeing the ‘Free Mumia’ slogan.

“In 1996, when HBO premiered the one hour documentary ‘Mumia Abu-Jamal: A
Case for Reasonable Doubt?,’ I developed some questions about the verdict and certainly the fairness of his trial.”

Soon, O’Connor had “read all the trial
transcripts as well as all of the transcripts from Abu-Jamal’s Post-Conviction Relief Act hearings that were held in 1995, and continued in 1996 and 1997. I also read all the contemporaneous newspaper articles
from the Philadelphia Inquirer and
Philadelphia Daily News, as well as all the books published about the case.”

HB: In your book, you were very optimistic about the Third Circuit granting Abu-Jamal a new guilt-phase trial. Were you surprised by the March 27 ruling? If so, how do you account for such a surprising ruling?

JPOC: I was incredulous. I thought
the oral arguments on May 17 had gone
extremely well for Abu-Jamal and that
he would get a new trial. The 2-1 majority ruling demonstrated anew just how politicized this case always has been from the beginning and continues to be still. The two Republican-appointed judges on the panel formed the majority and the lone Democrat-appointed judge dissented. I hate to make it sound that simple, but the U.S. Supreme Court itself is not above
making decisions based on party or ideological lines, and all too frequently does.

In its ruling, the majority stated it
believed Abu-Jamal had “forfeited his
Batson claim by failing to make a timely
objection. But even assuming Abu-Jamal’s failure to object is not fatal to his claim, Abu-Jamal has failed to meet his burden in providing a prima facie case.” The majority stated that he failed because his attorneys at his PCRA evidentiary hearing neglected to elicit the prosecutor’s reasons for removing 10 otherwise qualified blacks by means of peremptory strikes during jury selection.

In a nutshell, the majority denied Abu-
Jamal’s Batson claim on a technicality of its own invention, not on its merits.

Judge Ambro’s dissent was sharp:
“…I do not agree with them [the majority] that Mumia Abu-Jamal fails to meet the low bar for making a prima facie case under Batson. In holding otherwise, they raise the standard necessary to make out a prima facie case beyond what Batson
calls for.”

In other words, the majority, in this
case alone, has upped the ante required for making a Batson claim beyond what the United States Supreme Court stipulated.
When ruling in Batson in 1986, the
U.S. Supreme Court imposed no timeliness restrictions as to when a Batson claim may be raised, nor has the court done so in the intervening 22 years. Neither did it require that the racial composition of the entire jury pool be known before a Batson claim could be raised. [In fact, the
Supreme Court recently added heft to its Batson ruling, ruling in Synder that the purging of only one black juror on the basis of racial discrimination was grounds for a new trial.]

In addition, the Supreme Court ruled in
1986 that to establish a prima facie case
for a Batson claim, the defendant must
show only “an inference” of prosecutorial discrimination in purging even one black from a jury. Even the Third Circuit has never previously allowed the timing of a Batson claim to be material, nor had it ever ruled previously that not knowing the
racial composition of the entire jury pool was a fatal flaw in lodging a Batson claim.

The fact that the prosecutor in Abu-
Jamal’s case used 10 of the 15 peremptory challenges to exclude blacks from the jury–a strike rate of 66 percent against potential black jurors–is in itself an inference of discrimination. The result was that only three of the 12 jurors impaneled were black.

The Third Circuit should have remanded
the case back to Federal District Court
Judge Yohn–the judge who ruled on Abu- Jamal’s habeas corpus petition in 2001–to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the prosecutors’ reasons for excluding the 10 potential black jurors he struck. If that hearing revealed racial discrimination on the part of the prosecutor during jury selection, Judge Yohn would be compelled to order a new trial for Abu-Jamal.

HB: With the media spotlight on the
Pennsylvania primary elections, and the
major demonstrations supporting Abu-
Jamal on April 19, what would you like
the world to know about this famous
death-row case? How far has the city of
Philadelphia come since the days of Police Commissioner and Mayor Frank Rizzo, a notorious racist and public advocate of police brutality?

JPOC: In a real sense, D.A. Lynn
Abraham, just as Frank Rizzo before her, embodies the worst of Philadelphia. The day Federal District Court Judge Yohn overturned Abu-Jamal’s death sentence in 2001, Abraham put her antipathy for
Abu-Jamal this way: “Today, Mumia Abu-
Jamal is what he has always been: a convicted, remorseless, cold-blooded killer.”

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal represents an enormous miscarriage of justice, representing an extreme example of prosecutorial abuse and judicial bias. What makes getting to the truth about this case so difficult for people, particularly people in Philadelphia, is that the prosecution
built its case on perjured testimony with a calculated disregard for what the actual evidence established. The local media bought into the prosecution’s story line early on and has never been able to see this case for what it is: a framing of an
innocent and peace-loving man.

Despite more than 25 years of the bleakest existence possible in isolation on death row, Mumia Abu-Jamal remains what he has always been: an articulate an articulate, compassionate
righter of wrongs.