We Illinois Attorneys Urge That
Mumia Abu-Jamal Be Granted
A New Trial

Judge William H. Yohn may soon hear oral argument in Federal District Court in Philadelphia in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an African-American journalist who has spent the last eighteen years on Pennsylvania's death row. Judge Yohn will decide whether Mumia Abu-Jamal will be allowed to present new evidence in his case that was suppressed by the Pennsylvania state courts. Judge Yohn's decision is critical to the fate of this man. We urge that Mumia be granted an evidentiary hearing and a new trial. In shaping the interpretation of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the decision in this case may influence the fate of many other prisoners as well.

Here in Illinois we have seen vivid proof of the failings of a criminal justice system that condemned thirteen men to spend decades on death row for crimes they did not commit. Mumia Abu-Jamal's case shares many traits with these Illinois cases. Mr. Abu-Jamal had woefully inadequate representation at his trial (the attorney was later disbarred), vital evidence pointing to his innocence was withheld from the defense, and a prosecution witness has since recanted her testimony. Political statements made by Mr. Abu-Jamal years before as a member of the Black Panther Party were used against him in the sentencing phase to secure the death penalty, after the prosecution had used its preemptory challenges to remove eleven African-Americans from the jury panel. Both practices have since been ruled unconstitutional. Yet neither the verdict nor the sentence has been overturned. Mr. Abu-Jamal was forced to appeal his conviction before the same judge who sentenced him to death, and who has put more people on death row than any other judge in America.

Mumia Abu-Jamal's case is linked to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act because under that law, unlike in the ultimately successful case of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, federal judges are now expected to accept the findings of fact by state courts. This "state's rights" dictum could sound the death knell for any real review of lower court decisions in such cases (habeas corpus). Evidence uncovered by Mr. Abu-Jamal's new attorneys including coerced testimony and new witnesses not heard at the original trial will never be considered if he is not granted an evidentiary hearing and a new trial.

In Illinois overturned convictions have led to a moratorium on executions to prevent execution of the innocent. The climate in Philadelphia is quite different. Mr. Abu-Jamal's record of journalistic activism had made him a target of the Philadelphia police for years prior to the incident that put him on death row. Convicted of murdering a policeman, he has now become the center of a national campaign by the Fraternal Order of Police to see him executed, a campaign that includes refusal to provide police services to prominent people who support Mr. Abu-Jamal's cause. This climate of intimidation must be stemmed. We believe that the corruption of the Philadelphia police force, which led to a Federal suit against that City and reversals of numerous cases, is yet another reason Mr. Abu-Jamal's case must be heard in the Federal Courts. We cannot stand by silently while the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act is used to deny justice to a man who has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence.

Justice demands that the evidence in this controversial case be heard. We join with Amnesty International, heads of state from South Africa to France, members Congress and the European Parliament, trade unions and teachers associations and, here in Illinois, the Illinois Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Chicago Conference of Black Lawyers, and AFSCME Council 31, Local 3315 (representing Assistant Public Defenders in Cook County) to urge that Mumia Abu-Jamal be granted a new trial.

*Organization for identification only

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, March 12, 2001

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