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January 2002 • Vol 2, No. 1 •

Mumia’s Death Penalty Overturned, Conviction Upheld
A victory, but the Fight Goes On

by Nat Weinstein

On December 18, Judge William H. Yohn Jr. of Federal District Court threw out Mumia Abu Jamal’s death sentence but upheld his conviction on the charge of having murdered Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner 20 years ago. Judge Yohn found only that the original trial judge’s instructions to the jury regarding the penalty were unconstitutional, although the trial was one of America’s most notorious frame-ups. Yohn ordered the State of Pennsylvania to conduct a new penalty hearing for the world’s best-known death row inmate within 180 days, or he would impose a sentence of life imprisonment.

Although it was a mixed decision, there can be little doubt that it is a highly significant victory for Mumia based as much or more on the evidence of his innocence as on the growing opposition around the world to the death penalty. Neither can there be much doubt that Judge Yohn’s rulings were not motivated by the quest for justice. To the contrary, the facts strongly suggest that the mixed decision is intended to defuse the mass protest demonstrations in cities around the world demanding justice and freedom for Mumia, while condemning him to a life in prison without any possibility of parole.

The appeal based on new evidence submitted by Mumia’s legal defense to Judge Yohn’s court included among other facts a sworn affidavit by Arnold Beverly confessing that he, not Mumia, killed police officer Daniel Faulkner. Beverly, moreover, said in his affidavit that he was hired by underworld chiefs to kill Faulkner because he refused to go along with a protection racket run by high officials in the Philadelphia Police Department to allow systematic law-breaking for profit by both mobsters and cops.

Judge refuses to consider evidence of Mumia’s innocence

The judge, as had other judges earlier, refused to so much as consider the new evidence of Mumia’s innocence. Yohn’s refusal was based on the technical ground that even if the evidence of his innocence was substantiated, it came too late to count!

It so happens that the movement to free Mumia has been growing in intensity as well as in breadth largely because of the impact of Arnold Beverly’s confession and the apparent complicity of the police, the courts—and the mass media too, as we shall see. In the lingo of both cops and gangsters, Faulkner was “rubbed out” and martyred, and Mumia Abu Jamal—also a thorn in their side—was “framed” and made the “fall guy” by the cops.

In fact an extremely convincing video of Arnold Beverly recounting the substance of his confession affidavit was shown at a mass meeting in San Francisco’s Mission High School on December 15, just days before Judge Yohn’s decision. The over 1,000 in attendance were so engrossed by Beverly’s videotaped testimony that you could have heard a pin drop. They left the meeting, which also heard reports by celebrities like actor Danny Glover, radio journalist Amy Goodman, and a detailed report on the case by one of Mumia’s capable new lawyers, Elliot Grossman, more convinced than ever of Mumia’s innocence.

Beverly confession circulating

We can be sure that this tape is now circulating widely (a short clip of it was shown on a national television news program) and will have a huge impact on mass public opinion, convincing many of those not now aware of this very important part of the struggle for social justice, human rights and freedom.

In the face of such developments as these, this Federal Court decision can be seen to be a desperate attempt to defuse the growing protests. But it promises to have an effect contrary to the one intended, especially if coalitions like the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu Jamal redouble their efforts on Mumia’s behalf.

Yohn may have overturned the death penalty in order to mollify and de-activate those who are motivated primarily by opposition to the death penalty. But the movement must make the point that this first significant court decision, even though only partly favorable to Mumia’s case, should be seen as an opportunity to strike a historic blow against the death penalty—a punishment reserved for the poorest and most oppressed sectors of capitalist society.

And besides proving, once again, that mass protests if intelligently organized certainly can have a positive effect, the decision has helped expose the complicity of the mass media. From the first day, the news media has been complicit in this frame-up. It worked assiduously to present as objective facts the twisted and outright lies on the case repeated by cops and prosecutors. The capitalist-owned and controlled mass media aided and abetted the systematic campaign to falsely incriminate Mumia by its selective and biased reporting.

Gross media bias and distortion

The first reports of Judge Yohn’s rulings that appeared in The New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle in early editions of their December 19 newspapers, for instance, were obviously doctored to minimize the unintended but partially exculpatory effect of Judge Yohn’s dismissal of Mumia’s death sentence. This is how it was done:

Aside from the usual implicit presumption of Mumia’s guilt that colored reports on his case even before the original verdict was pronounced 20 years ago, both newspapers’ noted for the first time that he was the world’s best-known death row inmate but failed to mention that he had won broad global support. The Chronicle, in its later edition that day went so far as to publish a more in-depth report on its front page with a banner headline referring to its subject by his first name: “Reprieve for Mumia.” The San Francisco daily, no doubt, felt the pressure of public opinion in the Bay Area which has been heavily influenced by the consistent activities of the Bay Area coalitions in publicizing the facts in Mumia’s case and mobilizing mass demonstrations in the streets of San Francisco and other Bay Area cities.

But the “smoking gun” that has lifted a corner on what has been a media conspiracy to assist in the frame-up appears in the last paragraph of both newspapers’ first editions on December 19. The Times piece ends with these words:

“Mr. Jamal acknowledges that he was at the scene but has steadfastly maintained his innocence. He says someone else, whom he does not identify, was the killer.” (Emphases added.)

The Chronicle article is exactly as in the Times report—with the glaring omission of the last sentence, which has been italicized for the convenience of our readers.

But neither newspaper in their December 19 editions, nor in their reports on the following day, mentions Arnold Beverly’s sworn confession to the murder for which Mumia has been on death row for 20 years and now faces life imprisonment without parole. Neither is it reported that no attempt has been made by the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania police, courts, and other authorities to verify the confession or disprove it!

So much for the American system of “justice.”





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