Commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal: An ‘Impartial’ Killing

“The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,

And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.”

-Alexander Pope (1688-1714),

“The Rape of the Lock” (1712)


The dog days of August 1982 drew several people to the pools in Chicago’s Washington Park, strangers who would meet and be thereafter linked for life.

Among them, Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard, who would be shot to death, after being robbed.

Also, Henry Williams and William Taylor-two men who would give incriminating statements and testify against a man named Anthony Porter, who would be arrested based on these statements and on the testimony of a cop named Anthony Liance, who swore Porter was the man he stopped, frisked, and released at the crime scene shortly after the killings, as the man was unarmed.

Porter would be tried by a jury with at least one member who attended church with the mother of a victim (who told her fellows on the panel that deliberation wasn’t necessary, “as far as she was concerned, they could vote guilty right then”).

This jury would convict of two counts of murder, two counts of armed robbery and unlawful restraint against witness Henry Williams, and two counts of unlawful weapons use. Porter would be sentenced to 30 years for the robbery and unlawful restraint charges, and to death.

He filed appeals to every court that he could, and was rejected by every one.

When Porter complained of the juror, the Illinois Supreme Court found such a relationship was not prejudicial, and “mere suspicion of bias or prejudice” was “not sufficient” to reverse the verdict [from State v. Porter, 111 ni. 2nd 386,405 (1986)]. The Court majority neatly affirmed Porter’s “convictions and sentences” thusly:

“The clerk of this court is directed to enter an order setting Wednesday, May 21,1986, on which the sentence of death, entered in the circuit court of Cook County, is to be carried out (pp. 406-7).”

After several stays, Porter came within two days of death when the court granted a stay to examine his mental competency, occasioned by his low I.Q.

But, the issue wasn’t his incompetence but his innocence, which was determined not by his defense lawyers, not by the state or federal judiciary, certainly not by the prosecutors, but by several young people, students of Northwestern University’s journalism class. They solved the case in four months!

After almost 17 years on Death Row, Porter walked away from the executioner, after another man explained on tape how he killed the two swimmers in a drug deal gone sour.

Late last December one of the witnesses, Taylor, told N.U. students that the cops “threatened, harassed and intimidated” him into testifying, and reiterated his original statement to cops on the crime scene that he didn’t see Porter kill anyone.

Ah, what of the actual killer?

The cops interviewed him the day after the killings, and tried to get him and his wife (who witnessed) to give testimony against the guy they had already fingered-Anthony Porter. Alstory Simon sat and listened as they tried to convince him Porter killed two people that Simon had killed, and looked at mug shots of their key suspect, and promptly fled the state.

Porter’s appeal, opposed by the then-state’s attorney (now Chicago Mayor) Richard Daley, was little more than an empty formality. Had the D.A., state’s attorney, county judge R.L. Sklovowski, Illinois Supreme Court, or Chicago police had their way, Porter would’ve been dead today-years before his innocence was proven.

But Anthony Porter, like most on Death Row, was poor, and that is the quality of legal representation he got-poor. That factor, joined with police passion to convince witnesses they had the right guy, and the blind ambition of prosecutors and judges to use Porter like a political stepping stone, all but insured his condemnation to Death Row, and his remaining there.

He got exactly the same kind of “fair trial” that hundreds get every day, and will get tomorrow. And the same “appeal.”

The system doesn’t work. It wasn’t designed to. It was designed to look like it does. It sucked almost 17 years of LIFE from an innocent man, whose alibi was treated like the cruel, cold, heartless joke of a Constitution. That is, glanced at, spoken of, and ultimately ignored.

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