Commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Shadow of Justice

News Item: Reputed mob figures Al Daidone and “Long” John Martorano were released from prison after 19 years imprisonment, after the Pa. Supreme Court affirmed the earlier decision of the Superior Court reversing their murder convictions in connection with the killing of labor leader John McCollough. A divided court ruled that prosecutorial misconduct in the case precluded a retrial.

The November 1999 decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, freeing Messrs. Daidone and Martorano, made barely a flicker in the nation’s newslines. It is a local story, not worthy of the attention of a nation wrapped in hypnotic fascination with the upcoming elections.

But I think this story is of utmost importance. Here’s why.

Every fact that led to the reversal of their murder convictions was evident from the day that their trial transcript was typed up; when the arguments of the state prosecutor were made and recorded; long before the first appeal brief was written.

It took 19 years for the state’s highest court to rule that what happened in a Philadelphia courtroom so many years ago was unconstitutional, and that what prosecutors did was so fundamentally unfair that no retrial could correct it.

For 19 years Daidone and Martorano were separated from friends and family, consigned to small concrete and steel enclosures for most of their days, with a sentence of life over their heads. For several years after their retrial was granted, death row, if reconvicted!

In the two decades since their conviction, the trial judge, after at least one unsuccessful try at a higher judicial office, retired from the bench. Their former D.A. left the office, reportedly to represent state police. The head D.A. [Ed Rendell] became mayor, left office, and presently contemplates the governorship.

By utilizing the now common term, “prosecutorial misconduct,” local media reports underplay and obscure what went on in the courtroom almost 20 years ago. Prosecutorial misconduct is shorthand for evidence-tampering, improper arguments to the jury, and using other unfair tactics to convict the two men.

Let me make it plain: In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Daidone & Martorano, prosecutors used false evidence, and even argued on the basis of such false evidence that a judge or jury should convict these two men of first-degree murder and send them to prison for the rest of their lives. As it is, two men spent two decades in hell, and those who prosecuted them, using tactics that even the Pennsylvania Supreme Court couldn’t swallow, moved on up through the system, got raises, raised families, or retired on cushy pensions.

In several American states, the 19 years that Messrs. Daidone and Martorano have already spent in state and county jails and prisons would constitute life sentences. They served the equivalent of life sentences, based on prosecutorial misconduct at their trials. After the passage of so much time, their freedom looks less like justice, and more like its pale shadow.

© MAJ 1999