By JEFF MACKLER
Leonard Weinglass, Mumia-Abu Jamal’s chief legal counsel, spoke at a Jan. 23 New York City national leadership conference called to prepare the April 24 mass demonstrations for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and internationally.
Weinglass presented startling new information further demonstrating Jamal’s innocence of killing a Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner, in 1981.
He reported on a recent study done by Professor David Baldus, a leading U.S. authority on race and the court system. Baldus’s 1983-93 study, which includes the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, documents the concerted efforts of Philadelphia district attorneys to exclude Blacks from juries.
Blacks were 5.2 times as likely to be thrown off juries as whites, according to Baldus. In Mumia’s case, the figure rose to 16 times more likely. No other case in this comprehensive study has such a ratio.
Professor Baldus is now studying the jury selection record of Mumia’s 1982 prosecutor, Joseph McGill. Racism in the selection of jurors is a key point of contention in Mumia’s case since 11 Blacks were removed.
An internationally renown ballistics expert, Dr. Peter De Forrest, has been hired by the defense team. De Forrest has discovered critical new evidence; he asserts that the bullet that killed Officer Faulkner was actually intact, as opposed to the testimony of the medical examiner that it was smashed and broken into two pieces.
The defense team has uncovered evidence that could demonstrate that the actual bullet that killed Faulkner was switched. A former Philadelphia police officer told the defense that such switching was done all the time.
Additional information reported by Weinglass relates to the issue of whether the police knew who Mumia was at the time of the murder. The police claim they did not know him.
The highest ranking policeman on the scene, Captain Giordano, reported that Mumia had confessed. His testimony, however, was not used in the trial because he was indicted for massive corruption and pleaded guilty in federal court.
Giordano was the ranking officer at Benjamin Franklin High School when Mumia led the fight there to rename the school Malcolm X.
Captain Giordano also headed the unit in a police raid on the headquarters of the activist group MOVE in 1978. Mumia was instrumental in defending MOVE on that occasion.
Police officer Forbes, who found Mumia’s gun at the Faulkner shooting scene, also knew who Mumia was. This new information offers the defense powerful legal arguments for discovery, that is, to demand access to the huge files the police admit to having on Jamal yet refuse to turn over to the defense.
Alleged witnesses are now dead
Weinglass presented stunning information related to Mumia’s alleged confession. Priscilla Durham, a security guard at the hospital, who, two months after the alleged murder, reported that Mumia had confessed his guilt as he lay wounded, is dead.
Durham claimed at the 1982 trial that she had reported his “confession” in writing to a police officer, Bartelli, one day after the murder. But Durham’s note was never found. Now it appears that Bartelli also is dead. Finally, another security guard-who reported two months later that he, too, had heard a confession-is dead.
A detailed report was presented by Weinglass on an individual who was reported to be on the crime scene and who may have been the person who actually killed Officer Faulkner.
A driver’s license had been found in Faulkner’s clothing. The police had arrested the owner of the license, who, while able to prove that he was not on the murder scene, stated he had given his license to this person.
Two months after the murder, this same person was arrested on other charges. He was found to be in possession of a .22-caliber weapon that might have been capable of firing a bullet with a copper jacket similar to the one found on the crime scene. The copper-jacketed bullet could not have been fired by either Faulkner’s gun or Mumia’s gun.
Two years later, on the day that police bombed the MOVE headquarters, the owner of the .22 caliber gun was found dead.
Mumia’s defenders have long argued that the above information, known to the police at the time, was illegally kept from the defense. It was not presented at Mumia’s 1982 trial. This fact alone provides a substantial legal basis for throwing out the entire 1982 trial.
Assessment of legal proceedings
The key fight today is for a new trial that will allow the introduction of all the suppressed evidence and open the door to Mumia’s freedom.
A comprehensive assessment of the status of the legal proceedings was also presented by chief legal counsel Weinglass. The legal team will shortly file a limited writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court. The writ will only deal with the issues of Mumia’s physical exclusion from part of his trial and Judge Albert Sabo’s denial of Mumia’s request to serve as his own counsel.
Weinglass indicated that he does not expect the Supreme Court to agree to hear the case. While it is impossible to predict the time the Court will rule, Weinglass speculated that a decision could be rendered before March or April 1999.
A negative ruling will likely trigger the signing of a second death warrant by Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge. The warrant will set a date for execution 30 days later.
The governor will likely operate on the fact that Judge Sabo’s original 1995 stay included a provision making it operative through the U.S. Supreme Court. Sabo is the “hanging judge” who sentenced more people to death row than any other in the United States and who presided over the 1982 trial.
Following the likely rejection of the writ of certiorari, the legal team will appeal to the Federal District Court. The judge assigned to take responsibility for the appeal will have the power to overturn Judge Sabo’s findings and order a new trial. But he could also reject the appeal in its entirety, a grave ruling that would be appealed to the Court of Appeals.
Weinglass indicated that a decision in the Court of Appeals could be expected by early 2000.
A negative decision in this court would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rarely reviews such cases unless there is major constitutional issue involved. This time the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, will likely include the full record of the case.
If the U.S. Supreme Court rules against Mumia, the decision as to his execution reverts to Gov. Ridge. Mumia will not file an application for clemency because this requires an admission of guilt-which he denies.
Weinglass concluded his remarks by affirming that while every detail of the legal fight will be attended to, Mumia’s life truly rests in the capacity of his supporters to build the kind of mass force that cannot be overlooked. He stated that the upcoming April 24 mass mobilizations are a central element in this regard.