by Carole Seligman
Mumia Abu-Jamal, was supposed to be in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on Friday, August 17th, but the court administrator wouldnt allow him to appear. His attorneys argued for the court to grant a hearing where the evidence of Mumias innocence could be heard in court for the first time, but the prosecutors are arguing that a statute of limitations for appeals has run out and its too late for such evidence to be introduced. The Judge, Pamela Dembe, gave the defense three weeks to submit a brief showing why the statute of limitations doesnt apply. Then the prosecutors will have two weeks to answer the defense brief.
In July, Mumias attorneys went to Federal Judge William H. Yohn with proof that he is innocent. But Judge Yohn wasnt interested. Jamal can prove that he did not kill Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia in 1981 although he was convicted for that crime in 1982 and has been on death row for 20 years. The July 19th ruling by Judge Yohn denied Jamals request for the court to depose Arnold Beverly, the man who has come forward and in a sworn affidavit claimed that he killed Officer Faulkner. [Beverlys affidavit is printed in the June issue of Socialist Viewpoint.] Let me repeat: A man still sits on death row even though another has confessed to the crime!
Why Beverly must appear in court
The request for the deposition is very important. Its purpose is to protect Beverlys testimony, which is backed up by a lie-detector test, for the legal record. As Clark Kissinger, a journalist who has covered the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal for many years, explains in his report of Yohns decision, If anything were to happen to Beverly before he can come to court, his testimony would now be lost. The purpose in requesting his deposition is to protect that testimony for the record. A deposition is much like the appearance of a witness in court. The witness is sworn in, is questioned by both sides, and his testimony is recorded. Such a deposition can later be used in court if the witness is unavailable.
Judge Yohns decision to deny the Beverly deposition is really a decision to keep proof of Jamals innocence out of the federal court. Thus, Yohn is carrying out President Clintons Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, whose purpose was to speed up the execution process of death row inmates by cutting away their rights to appeal their convictions. As such it violates the U.S. Constitution in which the right of habeas corpus is enshrined.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is the only death row prisoner I know of who has an active claque of right-wingers, police organizations and spokespeople who are actively campaigning for his execution! Now they seem to be joined by a federal judge. Jamal is a passionate spokesman for social justice, against the prison-industrial complex, the death penalty, and for international solidarity with workers and oppressed peoples worldwide. He worked as a radio journalist before he was falsely convicted of the murder of Faulkner. Though Jamals own account of where he was and what he was doing at the time of the murder makes it clear that he stumbled upon the scene accidentally, his record of radicalism in active support of Black liberation struggles made him an attractive scapegoat for a murder that, according to Beverlys confession, was an inside job by the police against a non-cooperating one-of-their-own (Officer Faulkner) who was on to, put not part of, the widespread corruption in the Philadelphia police force. The cops had been cooperating with and protecting the mob in their enterprises involving prostitution, gambling and drug sales. Even the FBI and the Justice Department were investigating the Philadelphia Police Department for these kinds of corrupt activities during the time of this trial and conviction.
Courts decision is a political one
This courts decision to deny proof of innocence is a very political one seeming to bolster and prop up the governments steamrolling use of the death penalty as a measure of social control in a society that cannot meet the elementary needs of the people. But it flies in the face of the unavoidable fact that almost 100 death row prisoners who were able to have evidence of their innocence proved in court in time to stop the executioner from carrying out their death sentences were recently released from prison.
The decision is consistent with, and even cites, the U.S. Supreme Court Herrera decision of 1993 in which even proof of innocence may not be considered in a federal appeals court to overturn a state court conviction. In other words, the Herrera decision allowed the state to execute Herrera without hearing evidence of the mans innocence. Yohns decision announced to the world that he would also allow Jamal to die without evidence of his innocence being heard in court. In the legalese used to justify such treachery, Yohns decision was that all findings of the lower courts would stand, despite any hard evidence contradicting those findings.
Arnold Beverly came forward with his confession in 1999, not in time for Jamals trials and appeals. But Beverlys confession is consistent with all the facts the defense has established in the case of what happened on Dec. 9, 1981.
Jamals new defense attorneys have submitted a voluminous brief to the court which details the extreme measures the prosecution employed to get the original guilty verdictthe death sentenceand to have this conviction upheld through the appeals process so far.
For example, Cynthia White, one of the two key eye-witnesses for the prosecution in the original trial, testified with opposite answers in Jamals murder trial and his brothers assault trial. The same lawyer prosecuted both these cases! In the brothers trial, she claimed that Jamals brother had a passenger in his car who disappeared from the murder scene. In Jamals trial she said there was no passenger in the car. Actually, the passenger in the brothers car, Kenneth Freeman, was an accomplice to the murder of Officer Faulkner. But the prosecution claimed (over and over again) that Jamal and his brother were the only people at the scene of the crime with Officer Faulkner and that having eliminated the brother, Jamal was the only possible assailant. So much for the prosecutions service to the truth!
Prosecutions case crumbling
Now, the prosecution wants no part of hearing the confession of another man, Arnold Beverly, to the murder. If the case is successfully re-opened with a new court proceeding to hear the evidence, the prosecutions case will crumble like a stale cake. The prosecution pressured witnesses to change their testimony and offered perjured testimony to prove their case, they bought witness Choberts cooperation by ignoring his law-breaking and parole violation (he was a convicted arsonist!), they elicited a false report of a confession despite much evidence that there was no confession nor could there have been one, they illegally excluded qualified Black jurors from the jury and kept witnesses for the defense out of court. These are only a few examples of misconduct by the prosecutors. The original trial judge, Albert Sabo, violated Jamals rights to a fair trial in numerous ways including turning over evidence to the police providing them with the opportunity to tamper with it, providing incorrect instructions to the jury during the penalty phase of the trial practically guaranteeing a death sentence by precluding their consideration of mitigating evidence (such as Jamals lack of a police record), barring Jamals right to the assistance of John Africa for his defense at the trial.
Jamals new brief also excoriates all the lawyers who have worked for the defense over the years, from the original trial, appeals, to the Post Conviction Relief proceeding in 1995 and beyond for ineffectiveness in providing Jamal with an adequate legal defense in pursuing all the misdeeds of the prosecutors and all the evidence of Jamals innocence, such as the Beverly affidavit which has been in the hands of the defense since 1999 but has only been released to the public and brought to court this Spring, two years later.