[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


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 America’s justice system. Those demanding 
Abu-Jamal’s execution cavalierly ignore 
inconclusive forensics, tainted eyewitness 
testimony and a specious confession.

Violations comprising the injustice of 
Abu-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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 
defendant’s 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-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s defense centered on the 
claim that Faulkner’s shooter fled – a contention 
consistent with eyewitness reports that Faulkner’s 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-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s jury bias claim by creating a new standard for proving that claim.

That new proof standard was far stiffer than that 
Circuit’s 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-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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 Ferber’s 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-Jamal’s arrest, the 
US Justice Department filed an unprecedented 
civil rights violation lawsuit against 21 top 
Philadelphia officials – including the city’s 
then Mayor – charging them with actively backing 
violent police brutality
abusive misconduct 
frequently utilizing fabricated evidence to 
discredit victims and defend their police assailants.

Claims presented at trial about Abu-Jamal’s 
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-Jamal’s arrest stating Abu-Jamal made “no comments.”

Authorities fired that officer, Gary Wakshul, 
three years after Abu-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s arrest, 
the Pa Supreme Court blasted Philadelphia 
homicide prosecutors for “perpetrating a 
falsehood and fraud.” This misconduct included 
having the former head of the DA’s 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-Jamal’s 
trial, served as Philadelphia’s District Attorney.

Courts – state and federal – have overturned many 
murder convictions obtained during Rendell’s 
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-Jamal’s trial during Rendell’s 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-Jamal’s 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 Philadelphia’s 
police union – the leading proponent of Abu-Jamal’s execution.

A February 2000 Amnesty International report on 
Abu-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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 – who’s 
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 
judge’s 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-Jamal’s trial 
– including Sabo assailing the professional 
competency of Abu-Jamal’s attorney in front of the jury.

Equal protection violations comprise a consistent 
thread in the trial and appellate court 
rejections of Abu-Jamal’s legal claims.

These violations include the U.S. Supreme Court 
in the early 1990s twice refusing to consider 
Abu-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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 Court’s ruling in the white racist’s 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 racist’s 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-Jamal’s 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 
America’s 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-Jamal’s arrest.

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