Court ruling threatens Mumia Abu-Jamal's Life
Evidence to prove his innocence still unheard
By Monica Moorehead
On June 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit lifted its stay of proceedings in the case of death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and ordered a briefing on this matter. Robert R. Bryan, his lead attorney, says: "This should be a wake-up call to the movement. Mumia's case is now moving forward. He is in extremely grave danger. The authorities want to silence his voice and pen."
Mumia Abu-Jamal is one victim among millions who have been exploited and oppres sed by the anti-poor, unjust U.S. criminal justice system. The significance of his case, however, goes beyond his struggle against a racist judicial frame-up. Despite being physically isolated on death row, Abu-Jamal has used his words and audio commentaries to provide a powerful, distinct voice in the worldwide movement against imperialist war in Iraq and occupation in Palestine, Haiti and Afghanistan.
The circuit court had been awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Beard v. Banks, which will lead to Mumia's execution if the prosecution has its way.
Bryan explains the significance of this complicated ruling: "The Supreme Court ruled on the appeal by Pennsylvania state authorities stemming from a Court of Appeals decision that invalidated the death sentence of George Banks, who has been on death row over 20 years for multiple murder. Mr. Banks' death sentence had been overturned by the Court of Appeals on the grounds that the instructions to the jury in Banks' case violated a Supreme Court ruling which held that jurors did not have to agree unanimously on the existence of mitigating circumstances in order to vote against the death penalty. The key issue in the Banks case was whether another case, Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367, decided in 1988, could be applied retroactively. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had ruled that Mills was retroactive and therefore applied to Banks, which became final in 1987.
"In Mumia's case retroactivity regarding Banks/Mills was not an issue, since Mumia's proceeding was technically finalized in 1990 and therefore was fully covered by Mills. ... The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a critical portion of the Banks case on retroactivity, which held as unconstitutional capital sentencing schemes that require juries to disregard mitigating factors not found unanimously.
"The Supreme Court ruled that Mills did not apply retroactively. The court determined that the Banks conviction became final in 1987; thus, the 1988 Mills decision did not affect his case even though what had occurred was unconstitutional. Hence, Mr. Banks and some 30 other Pennsylvania death row inmates similarly situated could not benefit from the Mills decision and their original death penalty judgments must stand."
This crucial decision comes after more than four years of federal appeals. U.S. Federal District Judge William Yohn was assigned to Abu- Jamal's case in October 1999. He was charged with determining whether Abu-Jamal should have an evidentiary hearing and new trial. Such a hearing would have allowed evidence that had been suppressed to finally be heard and entered into court record. That would give Abu-Jamal a chance to prove his innocence in the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Yohn issued a ruling on Dec. 18, 2001, that threw out the original death sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal resulting from his 1982 trial. But Yohn upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction on the charge that he shot Faulkner. If Yohn's ruling had not been challenged within 180 days, Abu-Jamal would have gone through a new penalty trial that could have brought about either life imprisonment or, again, the death penalty.
The Philadelphia District Attorney's office, hoping to see Mumia executed, appealed Yohn's ruling. This led to the current ruling by the Third Circuit Court.
Attorney Bryan has appealed to the public: "The government knows that the only way to stop Mumia is to murder him in the name of the law, to execute him. In over three decades of litigating death-penalty cases, I have not seen one in which the government wants so badly to kill a client. We must not rest until Mumia is free."
Bryan is awaiting a ruling on a petition he filed in the Court of CommonPleas in Philadelphia concerning new evidence of innocence andprosecutorial misconduct during Mumia's original trial. Bryan will alsobe filing a petition in the U.S. District Court regarding a statementmade by Judge Albert Sabo during Abu-Jamal's trial. Court stenographerTerri Maurer-Carter has signed a legal affidavit saying she overheard Sabo say about Abu-Jamal: "Yeah, and I'm going to help 'em fry the n---- r."
The political movement must be ready to mobilize in the streets to demand Abu-Jamal's freedom. Twice when Tom Ridge--now head of the federal Depart ment of Homeland Security--was governor of Pennsylvania, he tried to legally lynch this revolutionary journalist and former Black Panther. Both times, in August 1995 and October 1999, Abu-Jamal's supporters turned out in the thousands to stop his execution.
The powers-that-be want to forever silence him because of his belief in worldwide social revolution. That is why the movement must use every avenue to free him.