[Ppnews] Correction: Rare Admission of Mistake in Mumia Case
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 26 11:15:15 EST 2012
Correction: Rare Admission of Mistake in Mumia Case
Created 01/25/2012 - 22:59
Linn Washington Jr.
I made a mistake.
An article I wrote recently for TCBH about the
Pennsylvania prison systems latest punitive
assault on now ex-death row inmate Mumia
Abu-Jamal (unnecessarily continuing his solitary
confinement) contained a factual misstatement.
Most journalists consider any inaccuracy an error, regardless of how small.
The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional
Journalists calls for admitting mistakes and correcting them promptly.
This journalists inaccuracy-as-error standard
contrasts with court systems, where appellate
courts too often dismiss mistakes made during
trials by prosecutors and judges without
correction by using the court-invented legalistic term: harmless error.
The Abu-Jamal case is fraught with such
misconduct and mistakes that appellate courts
have not only not corrected, but have allowed to
fester and get worse. But you won't see the
courts or the prosecutors ever admitting those things.
In my article, I inaccurately listed Pennsylvania
state prison officials as being the prime movers
in keeping Abu-Jamal on death row instead of
transferring him into general prison population
after a federal judge had voided his death
sentence in a December 2001 ruling converting
that sentence to a life in prison.
In that article I stated prison authorities kept
Abu-Jamal on death row in 2001 as a courtesy to
Philadelphias District Attorneys Office
Yes, keeping Abu-Jamal on death row arose from a
a courtesy that kept him on death row
ten years after that 2001 ruling.
And yes, Phillys DA (and others) did want Abu-Jamal to rot on death row.
But, no, Pennsylvania prison authorities did not extend that "courtesy."
That "courtesy" came from William Yohn, the
federal District Court judge who voided
Abu-Jamals death sentence after finding errors
in the 1982 jury deliberations resulting in
Abu-Jamal receiving the death penalty.
Yohn granted a request from Philadelphias then
District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who wanted to
keep the outspoken author/activist in solitary
death row confinement during her appeal of Yohns ruling.
Author J. Patrick OConnor, in his probative book
The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, wrote that
Abraham, in a particularly spiteful maneuver,
requested that Yohn stay his order lifting
Abu-Jamals death sentence and, incredibly, Yohn agreed.
With that "courtesy" Yohn allowed Abu-Jamal to
suffer death row deprivations despite his
judicial determination that Abu-Jamal had
unjustly spent nearly twenty-years in solitary
confinement due to that legally flawed sentence.
Abraham, in the wake of Yohns ruling, had blasted him.
An angry Abraham, in December 2001, said she was
completely dismayed that Yohn had granted any relief whatsoever.
Abrahams reaction ignored the fact that federal
district and appellate courts in Philadelphia had
cited penalty phase errors (the same failing Yohn
found in Abu-Jamals case) in two of the four
death sentences those courts voided between May and November 2001.
Maureen Faulkner, the widow of slain Officer
Daniel Faulkner, had also blasted Yohn, calling
him a sick and twisted person, despite Yohn
dismissing 28 of the 29 appeal claims raised by
Abu-Jamal, including all claims regarding his
conviction, which if accepted could have led to a
new trial for Abu-Jamal, possibly leading to his release.
While my article inaccurately assigned that
"courtesy" off keeping Abu-Jamal on death row to
prison authorities instead of Yohn, the article
did accurately account for the wasted costs of that "courtesy."
Keeping Abu-Jamal on death row for an additional
decade cost Pennsylvania taxpayers at least
$100,000 because the state's prison system spends
at last an extra ten thousand dollars per year
over the cost of incarcerating ordinary prisoners
to handle each death row inmate.
In early December 2011, prison authorities
finally shifted Abu-Jamal from death row into
more harshly restrictive Administrative Custody
(a/k/a The Hole) hours after Philadelphias DA
announced he would not seek reinstatement of a death sentence.
Yohns 2001 ruling required the DA to either hold
a mini-trial in an effort to obtain a new death
sentence from a new jury, or to accept a sentence
of life imprisonment. The federal Third Circuit
Appeals Court twice upheld Yohns ruling and the
U.S. Supreme Court finally ended appeals of Yohns ruling last fall.
One of the many problems with the Abu-Jamal case
is the refusal of police, prosecutors, prison
authorities and judges to acknowledge mistakes or
worse, misconduct -- both things that are not harmless.
Yohn, for example, made several mistakes in
that 2001 ruling on questions of constitutional
rights central to commonly held concepts of
justice, as my TCBH colleague Dave Lindorff put
it in his seminal book Killing Time: An
Investigation Into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Lindorff presented a disturbing, thorough
analysis of Yohns flawed dismissal of
Abu-Jamals jury selection discrimination appeal claims in his 2003 book.
The Third Circuit rejected Abu-Jamals jury
discrimination appeal in 2008 despite the Third
Circuit's having granted relief to other death
row inmates he had raised identical jury discrimination claims.
In another mistake by Yohn that escaped scrutiny
and correction by federal appellate judges, the
respected jurist brushed-off Abu-Jamals claims
that his attorney during the 1982 trial was
legally ineffective because that lawyer was
inexperienced in death penalty law,
undercapitalized and lacked adequate support staff during that 1982 trial.
Yohn seized upon erroneous state court findings
that attorney Anthony Jackson had tried
approximately twenty first-degree murder cases.
Pennsylvania state courts had twisted the exact
testimony Jackson gave during a 1995
Post-Conviction Relief Actl hearing about his capital case experience.
During three days of testimony in July 1995,
Jackson had repeatedly told Abu-Jamals appellate
attorney Leonard Weinglass that he had tried "one
or two" capital murder cases, serving as lead counsel only once.
According to transcripts from 1995, Jackson first
told Abu-Jamals appeal attorney that he had
tried one or two first-degree murder cases. On
cross-examination by the prosecutor, Jackson did
say he tried twenty murder cases but stressed
that only one or two of those cases were death
testimony the prosecutor did not
challenge with contrary evidence. On re-direct
from Abu-Jamals attorney, Jackson again said he
had only handled one or two capital cases.
Jackson, also during that 1995 testimony, said he
had received inadequate funding from the courts
for his defense efforts, that he had no
paralegals and investigators to assist him, that
a Philadelphia judge rejected his request for
another lawyer to assist him and at the time of
Abu-Jamals trial he only had a part-time
secretary because he had returned to private practice only months earlier.
Yohn and lower Pennsylvania state court judges
rejected Jacksons admission that he was
ineffective during Abu-Jamals 1982 trial,
arguing that Jacksons defense effort was legally sufficient.
Yohn asserted that even were I to assume that
Jackson was inexperienced, undercapitalized and
lacked adequate support, [Abu-Jamal did not]
demonstrate that there is a reasonable
probability that but for these [conditions] the
result of the proceeding would have been different.
While Pennsylvania prison officials kept
Abu-Jamal in solitary confinement for ten
unnecessary years on Judge Yohns orders, his
current continued solitary confinement is solely
the responsibility of those prison officials.
As I reported in my article, the draconian
Administrative Custody confinement rammed on
Abu-Jamal by prison authorities evidences
violations of the prison systems own written
regulations, because that placement does not meet
any of the 11 specific circumstances listed in
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
regulations used to justify administrative custody placement.
The current rationales offered by prison
officials for [Abu-Jamals] placement in solitary
confinement do not withstand scrutiny, which
lends further support to the inference that he is
continuing to be targeted, said Bret Grote,
spokesman for the Pennsylvania Human Rights
Coalition, during a recent interview.
Typical of Abu-Jamals selflessness, he directs
his supporters to fight not just against his
unjust confinement but also to assist the scores
of other people the state's Department of
Corrections unjustly holds in solitary
confinement on a daily basis, according to data
from HRC, a prison-monitoring organization.
Grote said prison authorities improperly use
Administrative Custody to penalize inmates for
their political activism, for complaining about
conditions, for their roles as jailhouse lawyers
and often simply for racist reasons.
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