[Ppnews] Mumia Prepares new appeal

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 3 16:14:20 EDT 2008

RIGHTS-US: Death Row Activist Prepares New Appeal

By Adrianne Appel

BOSTON, Sep 3 (IPS) - Mumia Abu-Jamal rallied thousands of protesters 
in the U.S. city of Denver last week who were calling for the release 
of U.S. political prisoners.

In a recorded message for the crowds protesting outside the 
Democratic National Convention, journalist Abu-Jamal attacked U.S. 
foreign policy, the protection of "foreign despots" and war for 
"foreign pipelines".

Abu-Jamal made the recording from his death row prison cell at a time 
when his 26-year battle for freedom has reached a critical point.

He and his lawyer are preparing to take his case to the U.S. Supreme 
Court to ask it to rule on whether the lower courts have denied him 
justice because of racial bias.

The decision to go to the Supreme Court was taken after a federal 
appeals court in Philadelphia in July refused to reconsider an 
application for a new trial about his guilt or innocence, Robert R. 
Bryan, the head of Abu-Jamal's legal team, told IPS.

The application was first turned down by the appeals court last March.

Abu-Jamal, a journalist and political activist, was sentenced to 
death 26 years ago after being convicted of shooting dead a white 
Philadelphia police officer in 1981.

His case has been taken up by rights activists in the U.S. and abroad 
who have contested much of the evidence that was presented to secure 
his conviction. Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence.

"Racism continues to raise its ugly head in this country, and should 
have no place in our legal system," Bryan said after the appeal 
court's decision.

"Bigotry lingers [on] today in Philadelphia. It would be naive not to 
realise that this case continues to reek of politics and injustice."

"In America... people often go to the death chamber because of the 
incompetence of their lawyers," Bryan said.

"The indisputable facts are that the prosecutor [in the 1982 trial] 
engaged in racism in selecting the jury in this case," Bryan said. 
"We will not rest until Mumia is free."

Abu Jamal's Supreme Court petition will focus on a number of issues, 
including that black jurors were intentionally excluded from his 
[1982] trial. Studies have shown that white jurors are more ready to 
pass death sentences than jurors of colour.

It is uncertain whether the court will agree to hear the case, since 
only between 1 and 2 percent of petitions are heard each year.

But because the three appeal court judges were split two to one on 
the issue of racism in the jury selection, the Supreme Court might be 
more likely to hear the case to resolve the differences of opinion.

A Supreme Court ruling in favour of Abu-Jamal would mean that the 
appeals court would have to reconsider his request for a new trial 
about his guilt or innocence.

At the same time that the appeals court turned down Abu-Jamals's 
request for a new trial, it ruled that he deserved a trial limited to 
determining whether his sentence should be changed from death to life 
without the possibility of parole.

This appeals court ruling removed the immediate threat that Abu-Jamal 
will be executed, but it could be overturned.

Bryan is not satisfied with the narrow ruling of the appeals court. 
He wants a re-trial to prove Abu-Jamal's innocence.

The prosecution is also unhappy and is likely to file its own 
petition to the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the appeals 
court ruling and order Abu-Jamal's sentence remains as death.

In an interview with IPS, Philadelphia district attorney Hugh Burns, 
the chief prosecutor, said he had not yet made a decision whether to 
petition the Supreme Court to send Abu-Jamal back to death row to 
await execution.

Burns said he was confident that racial bias had not influenced 
Abu-Jamal's original trial. He said it was "not possible" that 
significant errors had occurred during the trial.

If the Supreme Court refused to hear Abu-Jamal's appeal and agreed to 
the prosecution's request to reinstate the death penalty, the 
execution clock would start ticking again, Bryan said.

"Mumia remains very much on death row because this is still under review."

Mark Taylor, a coordinator of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal and 
professor of theology and culture at Princeton Theological Institute, 
said the Abu-Jamal case was a potential embarrassment to important 
state officials.

The Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, who would order the death 
warrant for Abu Jamal's execution, was a former chief prosecutor on 
the case. Ronald Castille, chief justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme 
Court, is a former prosecutor who worked to keep Abu-Jamal in prison. 
He did not remove himself when the state Supreme Court ruled on 
Abu-Jamal's case in February.

Taylor said his organisation would continue to hold workshops and 
teach-ins to keep the public informed and rally support for 
Abu-Jamal's release.

"We have to continue doing what we have been doing, educating the 
public about the details of the case and its significance to issues 
like the death penalty in America, and racism and police brutality 
and prisons," he said.


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