July 26, 2001— News in depth from Monica Moorehead

Court issues alarming ruling against Mumia by rejecting the confession of Arnold Beverly

On July 19, Federal District Judge William Yohn issued a 13-page ruling in which he turned down a petition filed by the new legal counsel representing African American political prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. In essence, Yohn refused to accept the confession of Arnold Beverly as an addition to a writ of habeas corpus filed originally in this particular court on Oct. 15, 1999.

The federal district court is the only high court that could automatically grant Abu-Jamal the right to an evidentiary hearing. He has requested such a hearing, at which he could present new evidence in his case, based on 29 violations of the U.S. Constitution carried out during his original sham trial. These 29 violations were outlined in the original writ of habeas corpus.

An evidentiary hearing would allow all suppressed evidence to finally be heard. Had Judge Yohn ruled in Abu-Jamal's favor, it could have led to an overturn of the state court ruling that the case against him has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But this negative ruling by Yohn makes it less likely that the evidentiary hearing will ever happen.

Arnold Beverly signed an affidavit stating that he was a hit man who had been hired and paid by the mob to kill a white policeman, Daniel Faulkner, on Dec. 9, 1981, in Philadelphia. Abu-Jamal was accused and subsequently convicted of that killing. He has been languishing on death row since July 3, 1982, and could face execution once his federal appeals have been exhausted. Two death warrants have been signed by the Pennsylvania governor and then withdrawn under mass pressure during Abu-Jamal's state appeals.

The worldwide political movement to "Free Mumia" has stated since its very existence that the real reason Abu-Jamal faces a legal lynching stems from his revolutionary opposition to all forms of racist and class oppression. Many within the growing anti-globalization movement have embraced Abu-Jamal as the most recognizable symbol of resistance to the racist use of the death penalty inside the U.S.

This most recent petition filed by Abu-Jamal's new legal counsel--Marlene Kamish, Eliot Grossman and Nick Brown--explained that Beverly's confession about killing Faulkner was first made in a deposition on June 8, 1999. The main motivation Beverly gave for the murder was that "Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to all illegal activity including prostitution, gambling and drugs with prosecution in the center city area."

Effective Death Penalty Act restricts prisoners' rights

Yohn cited the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 as the main reason for not accepting the Beverly confession. The AEDPA was signed into law during the Clinton administration after the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building by racist right-wingers that claimed the lives of over 160 people. April 24, the day the act was passed by Congress, is ironically the same date as Abu-Jamal's birthday.

The AEDPA makes it virtually impossible for death row inmates to get federal courts to overturn state convictions in capital punishment cases, even when new evidence is presented to prove their innocence. The law states that unless death row inmates submitted a writ of habeas corpus to the federal courts on or before April 23, 1997--the date the law actually went into effect--federal judges are not obligated to review the state rulings based on suppression of vital evidence or even constitutional rights violations.

The impact of this law is not only to gut the writ of habeas corpus but to speed up the rate of state-sanctioned executions that target the poor and people of color, including activists like Abu-Jamal who challenge the very existence of this oppressive capitalist system.

How did Yohn specifically apply the AEDPA to this recent Mumia petition? According to the Yohn ruling, "because the statute of limitations for asserting the Beverly claim had expired, petitioner is also precluded from requesting discovery (or new evidence) regarding the claim. Moreover, the Commonwealth argues that because petitioner cannot satisfy the requirements for an evidentiary hearing as set forth in the AEDPA … he is likewise not entitled to discovery concerning the Beverly claim."

Yohn admits that the AEDPA exists to limit the access to federal habeas corpus for the petitioner or defendant. This "limitation" means factual evidence not raised during the original state trial will not be taken into consideration.

Yohn also dismisses Abu-Jamal's claim that the prosecutor during his state trial purposely suppressed evidence that would have cleared him of all charges. Key prosecution witnesses Veronica Jones and Robert Chobert retracted their earlier testimony during post-conviction relief hearings in 1995 and 1996. These witnesses and others said they had been coerced by the Fraternal Order of Police into falsely accusing Abu-Jamal of shooting Officer Faulkner.

Yohn's "reasoning" is that even if Beverly's confession were credible, the confession could not be tied to any of the suppressed evidence and does not prove that the government consciously or unconsciously suppressed or possessed any evidence in order to conspire against Mumia.

Yohn also states that based on the AEDPA, the time line for submitting the Beverly claim to the federal district court began on Oct. 15, 1999, and ended on June 8, 2000. He goes on further to say that "before a district court can consider the merits of a state prisoner's habeas corpus petition, he must have exhausted all available state remedies."

In fact, Abu-Jamal's new attorneys have filed a legal brief of over 300 pages with the state court claiming "ineffective counsel" in reference to Leonard Weinglass and Dan Williams, who were Abu-Jamal's attorneys during the period that Beverly made his confession.
The state court has set a tentative date of Aug. 17 to hear oral arguments based on this brief. Whether Abu-Jamal will be present during this hearing has not been verified.

This legal ruling by Yohn has deeper political ramifications for the progressive movement. It shows once again that the capitalist courts cannot be relied upon to mete out real justice for the masses. The AEDPA was supposedly enacted to fight "domestic terrorism," but the real terrorists are the courts and the U.S. government, which will use legal and technical jargon as a cover to send the poor and most oppressed to be legally lynched at an unprecedented pace.

While it is helpful and important to make sense of what is legally going on with Mumia Abu-Jamal's case, what will ultimately be decisive is the mobilization of the masses in the streets to demand the freedom of this heroic revolutionary.

From Monica Moorehead

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