By JEFF MACKLER
The U.S. criminal injustice system continues to grind out one absurdity after another in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. As the hollow formalities of capitalist law are observed, the judicial machine presses on to drive Mumia, an innocent political prisoner and award-winning journalist, to the death chamber.
On Aug. 17 Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe gave Mumia’s attorneys, Marlene Kamish and Elliot Grossman, three weeks and a maximum of 15 pages to argue why she should not reject Mumia’s request for a new Post Conviction Relief Act hearing.
Dembe openly revealed her inclination to support the prosecution argument that the confession of Arnold Beverly (that he, and not Mumia Abu-Jamal, killed police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981) should be barred from court on the grounds that it was submitted after state statutory time limits had run out.
While the Aug. 17 hearing was taking place, 2000 people rallied outside the Philadelphia courthouse to support Mumia’s struggle for justice and for a hearing where the real killer could testify in order to exonerate Mumia. Jesse Jackson, Ossie Davis, and Sonia Sanchez were joined at the rally by defenders of democratic rights from across Europe, Latin America, and Canada as well as from cities throughout the United States.
Another 750 rallied in solidarity in San Francisco on Aug. 18 in a march and rally organized by the Northern California-based Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia banned from Aug. 17 hearing
Dembe refused repeated defense team requests to allow Mumia to be present in court while his fate was being decided. She also rejected setting any future court dates, implying that her decision could be rendered in a written opinion without allowing defense attorneys to formally argue their case in court before her.
Mumia’s presence, Dembe stated, would “only create additional collateral damage.” Clearly, in Dembe’s view, the “collateral damage” would be a product of additional tens of thousands of Mumia’s supporters mobilizing in Philadelphia to stand in solidarity with Mumia as he challenged a judicial system that is increasingly discredited in the eyes of millions.
While Dembe had originally ordered that Mumia be brought to court for the Aug. 17 proceeding, her order was apparently unilaterally countermanded by a court administrator on the spurious grounds that the court lacked sufficient security and that there was no available jail space for an overnight stay.
A few days before the hearing, Jamal’s attorneys asked Dembe to enforce her own order to bring Mumia to court and to hold the administrator in contempt for his actions. But Dembe refused and Jamal was once again barred from proceedings that may determine whether he lives or dies.
Pam Africa, spokesperson for the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, was present in Dembe’s courtroom along with 100 others as Dembe refused to set any date where oral arguments could be presented. Africa later expressed an idea to Mumia supporters that captured the essence of the unfolding judicial farce. “If there is no statute of limitations on murder,” she noted, “why should there be a statute of limitations on a confession to murder?”
The sheer absurdity of arguing that Arnold Beverly’s confession is inadmissible in regard to Mumia’s case on the grounds that it is too late, although the same Beverly could be convicted of murder himself, has not registered on Mumia’s would-be executioners.
Africa’s observation is no mere abstraction. The defense seeks to bring Arnold Beverly into court to testify that he was one of the two killers of Daniel Faulkner. The prosecution refuses to even take a deposition from Beverly. Facts do not concern them.
In the same vein, last month Federal District Judge William H. Yohn Jr., when asked to order the deposition of Beverly, refused on the grounds that “even if his confession were credible” it had no relevance in his court since only state courts can deal with matters of fact. And since Judge Albert Sabo’s state court trial had found Mumia guilty, there was nothing further that the federal courts, limited as they were by U.S. laws and the Supreme Court Herrera ruling, could do.
The tightly constructed package of reactionary laws developed in recent years to railroad the poor and oppressed to their death with minimal legal provisions for federal appeal is today applied with a vengeance against Mumia.
The 1993 Supreme Court Herrera ruling that “innocence in federal court proceedings is no defense,” coupled with the requirement stipulated by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act-signed by President Clinton in 1996-that racist judges like Albert Sabo be granted the presumption of having been honest fact-finders, are cited with impunity to prevent the truth from seeing the light of day.
New witness exposes Sabo
But the image of legal civility was dealt a major blow on Aug. 28, at a press conference at Philadelphia Mayor John Street’s City Hall office, when Mumia’s attorneys made public new and critical information exposing the fundamental corruption and racism of Sabo himself.
The defense team submitted a legal affidavit by Terri Maurer-Carter, who was employed as an official court stenographer in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas during the time that Judge Sabo was presiding over the Jamal case.
In 1978 Maurer-Carter became a Federally Certified Court Reporter with “grand jury clearance.” She received awards of excellence from the states of Virginia and Maryland, and in 1982 started working at the Court of Common Pleas.
Maurer-Carter’s Aug. 21, 2001, sworn affidavit states: “I was sent to a courtroom different than that I usually worked in because the judge I was assigned to was going to be doing “VOP” (Violation of Probation) and post-verdict motion hearings there that day. I went through the anteroom on my way to that courtroom, where Judge Sabo and another person were engaged in conversation.
“Judge Sabo was discussing the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. During the course of that conversation, I heard Judge Sabo say, ‘Yeah, and I’m going to help them fry the nigger.’ There were three people present when Judge Sabo made that remark, including myself.”
Sabo, as expected, is reported to have denied the remark. But Terri Maurer-Carter affirms that “hanging” judge Albert Sabo (whose racist record includes sentencing more people to death row, the vast majority Black, than any other sitting judge in the country) was anything but unbiased in his 1982 court proceeding.
“Fry the nigger,” indeed, was Sabo’s racist intention as he ruled against more than 100 defense motions during Mumia’s frame-up trial while approving virtually all prosecution interventions. Sabo removed Mumia from the courtroom for more than half of his trial and made no provisions for Mumia to even hear the proceedings against him.
Sabo presided over the exclusion of 11 Black jurors. He orchestrated the removal of the sole approved Black juror that Mumia himself had selected during the short period he was allowed to conduct the jury selection process.
Sabo rejected Mumia’s right to serve as his own counsel. He presided over a trial in which key eyewitnesses had been previously intimidated and pressured to change their original testimony that “the shooter ran away,” in exchange for prosecution favors. Sabo accepted as good coin a trial where critical forensic and ballistic evidence was never presented to the jury and where an incompetent defense attorney failed to interview a single one of the 100-plus witnesses who should have been questioned before trial.
By all standards, Sabo, the man before whose court numerous attorneys had stated that no one could receive a fair trial, rendered Mumia’s trial a farce and a fraud.
Federal judge hedges on amendments
In late August Federal Judge Yohn added to the farce. He ruled that a 700-page brief submitted by Mumia’s defense for the purpose of amending Mumia’s original 29-point habeas corpus (appeal) brief was to be “stricken pending a determination by this court as to whether the brief could be amended in whole or in part.”
Yohn, who may now seek to deny Mumia the right to supplement his original habeas brief, had previously advised Dembe to ignore the Beverly confession. He explained that the originally jury would not likely have changed their minds, since there were four other witnesses who had testified that Mumia was the killer.
The fact that only two of these witnesses had actually identified Mumia, and another had originally stated that the killer ran away, did not seem to enter into Yohn’s considerations.
The remaining “eyewitness” was Cynthia White. Affidavits filed on May 5 by the defense reveal that White had received special favors from the police, including the “right” to pursue her trade as a prostitute unimpeded by police-provided only that she pay the obliging officers money in return.
Yohn’s judicious selection of “facts” to justify his refusal to depose the real killer, Arnold Beverly, indicates that his own protestations that federal courts cannot consider the facts determined by state courts is a fraud. Yohn’s brief does select “facts” that are in accord with Sabo’s findings, while ignoring the mountain of evidence indicating that Sabo acted with total disregard for the truth.
Once again the truth behind the frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal has broken through the mass of lies that the state power seeks to employ to end the life of this courageous fighter for human and democratic rights. And once again his supporters will mobilize from all corners of the country and internationally to demand his freedom.
A mass protest is set at City Hall, across the street from the state courthouse in Philadelphia, Saturday, Sept. 15, at 12 noon. Mumia’s supporters and all who cherish justice and fair play should be there to demand that Judge Dembe allow the real killer to present his testimony in court.
Stand in solidarity with Mumia to demand a new Post Conviction Relief Act hearing, where the truth can be told. Stop the Execution! Overturn the Conviction! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!