[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 system’s 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 journalist’s 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 
Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s 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, Philly’s 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-Jamal’s death sentence after finding errors 
in the 1982 jury deliberations resulting in 
Abu-Jamal receiving the death penalty.

Yohn granted a request from Philadelphia’s then 
District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who wanted to 
keep the outspoken author/activist in solitary 
death row confinement during her appeal of Yohn’s ruling.

Author J. Patrick O’Connor, 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-Jamal’s 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 Yohn’s ruling, had blasted him.

An angry Abraham, in December 2001, said she was 
“completely dismayed” that Yohn had granted “any relief whatsoever.”

Abraham’s reaction ignored the fact that federal 
district and appellate courts in Philadelphia had 
cited penalty phase errors (the same failing Yohn 
found in Abu-Jamal’s 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 Philadelphia’s DA 
announced he would not seek reinstatement of a death sentence.

Yohn’s 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 Yohn’s ruling and the 
U.S. Supreme Court finally ended appeals of Yohn’s 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 Yohn’s flawed dismissal of 
Abu-Jamal’s jury selection discrimination appeal claims in his 2003 book.

The Third Circuit rejected Abu-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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 
penalty cases
testimony the prosecutor did not 
challenge with contrary evidence. On re-direct 
from Abu-Jamal’s 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-Jamal’s 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 Jackson’s admission that he was 
“ineffective” during Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial, 
arguing that Jackson’s 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 Yohn’s 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 system’s 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-Jamal’s] 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-Jamal’s 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.

Source URL: 

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