[Ppnews] Wrongs in Civil Rights Underlying Abu-Jamal's Conviction
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun Aug 2 12:38:22 EDT 2009
WRONGS IN CIVIL RIGHTS UNDERLYING ABU-JAMALS CONVICTION
By Linn Washington Jr.
During 1981, Philadelphia, Pa police proudly
announced making arrests in four separate
hi-profile homicides including the murders of two policemen.
However, investigations later revealed that
police and prosecutors engaged in serious
misconduct in each of those murder cases.
Two of those arrested in 1981 spent twenty-years
in prison before newly discovered evidence
exposed flawed confessions obtained by police.
Another man spent 1,375-days on death row before
his release, an ordeal that one judge described
as a Kafkaesque nightmare due to illegal
conduct mainly by police. A jury acquitted the
teen arrested for one of the 1981 police killings citing lack of evidence.
Ironically, the one 1981 homicide arrest
generating the most attention internationally is
the one arrest authorities in Philadelphia
declare contains not a single instance of
impropriety by either police or prosecutors.
This is the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal convicted
of fatally shooting a Philadelphia policeman in December 1981.
The conviction of death-row journalist Mumia
Abu-Jamal is filled with serious violations of
fundamental civil rights. Freedom from
discrimination is a civil right, yet
discriminatory actions by police, prosecutors and
judges mare all aspects of the Abu-Jamal case.
The case against Abu-Jamal, cobbled from
circumstantial evidence, constitutes a festering
sore on Americas justice system. Those demanding
Abu-Jamals execution cavalierly ignore
inconclusive forensics, tainted eyewitness
testimony and a specious confession.
Violations comprising the injustice of
Abu-Jamals conviction include the kinds of
structural deficiencies that drive exonerations
and official investigations nationwide: police
fabricating evidence, multiple instances of
prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance
of defense counsel plus judicial wrongdoing.
One of the most egregious violations is the
public pronouncement by the judge presiding at
Abu-Jamals 1982 trial that he was going to help prosecutors fry the Nigger.
That odious admission by Judge Albert Sabo oozing
lack of impartiality and racial bigotry clearly
violated Abu-Jamals constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial.
An essential pillar in a constitutionally fair
trial, experts agree, is having an impartial
judge who does not act as either an assisting
prosecutor or a thirteenth juror.
Assertions by Abu-Jamals opponents that his
obvious guilt negates any need for following fair
trial procedures contradict long established law.
The Pa Supreme Court declared in a 1959 ruling
that defendants are entitled to all the
safeguards of a fair trial
even if the evidence
of guilt piles as high as Mt. Everest.
That fair trial right exists irrespective of
whether judges or prosecutors are convinced of a
defendants guilt, the Pa Supreme Court stated in
that ruling issued when Abu-Jamal was four-years-old.
That 1959 ruling arose from a Philadelphia murder
case where the defendant had pled guilty.
Abu-Jamal has consistently proclaimed his
innocence in the shooting death of Officer Daniel
Faulkner --- before, during and after his trial.
Even some who feel Abu-Jamal could be guilty as
charged also believe Abu-Jamal received an unfair trial.
Respected lawyer/journalist Stuart Taylor, in a
1996 article, asserted that Abu-Jamal received
an unfair trial despite also contending that a
strong probably existed that Abu-Jamal killed
Officer Daniel Faulkner
when Jamal came to the
aid of his brother who was being beaten by Faulkner during a traffic stop.
Echoing conclusions of other investigators,
Taylor found unfairness in grossly inadequate
defense lawyering, flagrantly biased judging and,
in all probability, police fabrication of
evidence and intimidation of witnesses.
Prosecutors contributed to undermining
Abu-Jamals fair trial rights by withholding
evidence of innocence from the defense and the
jury during the 1982 trial. This suppression
included withholding evidence of a third person
at the crime scene other than Abu-Jamal and his
brother. Abu-Jamals defense centered on the
claim that Faulkners shooter fled a contention
consistent with eyewitness reports that Faulkners shooter fled.
Violations of fair trial procedures by
prosecutors are a problem in Pa and nationwide.
An October 2007 American Bar Association report
chided top prosecutorial officials in
Pennsylvania for not complying with all legal,
professional and ethical obligations to disclose
to the defense information
and tangible documents
Incredibly, state and federal courts including
the US Supreme Court have repeatedly dismissed
the vile violations in Abu-Jamals case when
denying his appeals for a new trial.
Dismissals in the Abu-Jamal case contradict those
same courts citing chillingly similar violations
when voiding over 200 Pa death penalty convictions since 1978.
The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals, for
example, has voided Philadelphia first degree
murder convictions upon findings that prosecutors
engaged in racially biased jury selection practices.
Yet, in 2008, a 3rd Circuit panel dismissed
Abu-Jamals jury bias claim by creating a new standard for proving that claim.
That new proof standard was far stiffer than that
Circuits existing precedent, exceeding even jury
bias proof standards utilized in a US Supreme
Court ruling weeks earlier authored by Justice
Samuel Alito, a former 3rd Circuit jurist.
The dissenting judge in that 3rd Circuit ruling
the first ever dissent in an Abu-Jamal case
ruling upbraided his panel colleagues for
seizing Abu-Jamals case to change established procedures.
Adherence to precedent is supposedly a
fundamental principle of the American legal
system. Patterns of failing to follow precedent
produces what is dubbed the Abu-Jamal Exception
the practice of judges craftily changing
precedent to exclude extending Abu-Jamal the
legal relief given to other defendants raising the same legal issues.
Documented violations in this closely watched
case convince groups as diverse as Amnesty
International and the national NAACP that
Abu-Jamal is the victim of double standards of
justice. The NAACP approved a resolution at its
centennial convention in July 2009 calling on the
US Department of Justice to investigate civil
rights violations in the Abu-Jamal case.
The enormous attention given to the whodunit
aspects underlying Abu-Jamals contentious
conviction easily obscures critical context
regarding systemic violations by Philadelphia
authorities. Failing to factor in this important
context elevates the credibility of fallacious claims about Abu-Jamals guilt.
One fallacious claim is that police did not frame
Abu-Jamal. Evidence from the now proven
improprieties in those three other high profile
1981 homicides refutes this claim.
The case of the 1981 arrest producing that
wrongful death sentence provides a compelling
example of Philadelphia police framing an innocent man.
Philadelphia police had arrested Neil Ferber six
months before their December 1981 arrest of
Abu-Jamal, charging Ferber with murdering an organized crime figure.
The judge presiding at the trial where Ferber
sought compensation for his wrongful
incarceration stated in his post-trial opinion
that a variety of Philadelphia police officers
engaged in a litany of illegal conduct all for
the singular purpose of obtaining Ferbers arrest and subsequent conviction
Common sense compels consideration of the
conclusion that if Philadelphia police would
callously frame a man for a mob murder police
could frame a man charged with murdering a fellow police officer.
Persons rejecting evidence of police framing
Abu-Jamal ignore a disturbing fact uncovered by
investigative reporter Dave Lindorff, author of a
book on the Abu-Jamal case. Lindorff documented
that seventeen of the 35 police officers involved
in the MAJ investigation were later indicted
and/or disciplined for misconduct that included
manufacturing evidence designed to frame suspects.
Federal investigations and findings by courts
have repeatedly documented illegal practices by
Philadelphia police and prosecutors.
In 1979, two years before Abu-Jamals arrest, the
US Justice Department filed an unprecedented
civil rights violation lawsuit against 21 top
Philadelphia officials including the citys
then Mayor charging them with actively backing
violent police brutality
frequently utilizing fabricated evidence to
discredit victims and defend their police assailants.
Claims presented at trial about Abu-Jamals
alleged confession first arose during an
investigation into his complaint of suffering
police beatings on the day of his arrest at the
crime scene and inside a hospital emergency room.
During that brutality investigation, two officers
suddenly remembered hearing Abu-Jamal confess at
the hospital. This pair included the officer who
brought Abu-Jamal from the crime scene to the
hospital who filed a report three hours after
Abu-Jamals arrest stating Abu-Jamal made no comments.
Authorities fired that officer, Gary Wakshul,
three years after Abu-Jamals arrest. Police
officials fired Wakshul for viciously beating a
man, including a near fatal assault inside a hospital emergency room.
In 1978, three years before Abu-Jamals arrest,
the Pa Supreme Court blasted Philadelphia
homicide prosecutors for perpetrating a
falsehood and fraud. This misconduct included
having the former head of the DAs Homicide Unit
provide false testimony against a murder
defendant. That Supreme Court ruling specifically
criticized the misleading testimony of ex-Unit
head Ed Rendell, who at the time of Abu-Jamals
trial, served as Philadelphias District Attorney.
Courts state and federal have overturned many
murder convictions obtained during Rendells
tenure as District Attorney citing instances of
misconduct by homicide prosecutors inclusive of
withholding evidence of innocence and engaging in
racially discriminatory jury selection practices.
The Pa Supreme Court, in a 1999 ruling involving
extensive and flagrant prosecutorial misconduct
released two reputed Philadelphia mob members
convicted of a high-profile murder, ruling this
pair was denied a fair trial. That unfair trial
took place two years after Abu-Jamals trial during Rendells DA tenure.
The Pa Supreme released those two mob members
directly from prison, one year after its 1998
Abu-Jamal case ruling where that Court rejected
voluminous claims of prosecutorial misconduct
during Abu-Jamals trial and his appeal proceedings.
Incidentally, five of the seven Court justices
participating in that 1998 ruling against
Abu-Jamal received substantial electoral
financing and other support from Philadelphias
police union the leading proponent of Abu-Jamals execution.
A February 2000 Amnesty International report on
Abu-Jamals case expressed concern about the
political support Pa justices receive from
police organizations noting the prospect of
severe political backlash against any justice
challenging Abu-Jamals conviction.
Pa judicial ethics require judges to remove
themselves from cases they handled while serving
as government lawyers. Yet, a former Philadelphia
DA-turned-Pa Supreme Court Justice whos
received extensive police union backing has
repeatedly refused to remove himself from Abu-Jamal appeals.
Equal protection of laws is an essential aspect
of civil rights. The Blacks Law Dictionary
cited as authority by judges defines equal
protection of the law in part as: no person
shall be denied the same protection of laws which
is enjoyed by other persons in like circumstances
Pa Supreme Court rulings in 1988 and 1989 provide
glaring evidence of equal protection violations.
In March 1988, the Pa Supreme Court issued a
ruling granting a new trial to a Pa State Trooper
charged with fatally shooting a woman inside a
judges office. That Trooper shot the woman he
accused of burglarizing his home during a court
proceeding involving that burglary.
The Court ruled the Trooper did not receive a
fair trial because the presiding judge made a
single statement questioning the professional
credentials of a defense witness. The Court
deemed that single statement as offering an improper opinion.
However, one year later, the same Court found no
fair trial fault in numerous opinion laden
statements by Judge Sabo during Abu-Jamals trial
including Sabo assailing the professional
competency of Abu-Jamals attorney in front of the jury.
Equal protection violations comprise a consistent
thread in the trial and appellate court
rejections of Abu-Jamals legal claims.
These violations include the U.S. Supreme Court
in the early 1990s twice refusing to consider
Abu-Jamals claim that prosecutors violated his
First Amendment association rights with
inflammatory references to his teenaged membership in the Black Panther Party.
Although Abu-Jamal had voluntarily left the BPP
12-years before his 1982 trial, prosecutors
speciously argued his former BPP membership spurred his killing a cop.
The U.S. Supreme Court, months after rejecting
Abu-Jamals first appeal, granted a new hearing
to a murderer who challenged prosecutorial
reference to his current membership in a violent
white racist prison gang. Following the favorable
ruling for the racist, Abu-Jamal unsuccessfully
sought Supreme Court reconsideration of his
association right claim citing that Courts ruling in the white racists case.
Months after spurning Abu-Jamal a second time,
the Supreme Court granted a new hearing to a
white murderer challenging prosecutorial
reference of his membership in a devil
worshipping cult. When giving relief to the devil
worshipper, the Supreme Court cited the
precedence of its ruling in the racists case.
Equal protection of laws seemingly should have
provided an ex-Black Panther with the same
protection of laws as a white racist and white
devil worshipper given the similarities of their appeal circumstances.
The failures of federal and state courts to
correct the gross violations in Abu-Jamals case,
compounding the illegal conduct of police and
prosecutors, cries out for an investigation by
the U.S. Justice Department requested by
organizations and individuals concerned about
Americas bedrock principal of equal justice under law.
It is true that courts enjoy wide discretion in
interpreting law as those courts deemed appropriate.
However, the fact that state and federal courts
have rejected every evidentiary issue and all but
one procedural error issue presented in the
Abu-Jamal case raises real questions about courts
acting in accordance with the principle of equal-justice-under-law.
To accept the assertion that the Abu-Jamal case
is one of open-&-shut guilt free of any error
requires embracing scenarios that defy logic, law
and the proven official misconduct in those other
1981 Philadelphia homicide arrests.
--Linn Washington Jr. is a Yale Law Journalism
Fellowship graduate and Philadelphia Tribune
columnist who has investigated the Abu-Jamal case
since December 9, 1981 the day of Abu-Jamals arrest.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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