By JEFF MACKLER
One year ago, the attorneys representing Mumia Abu-Jamal filed a sworn declaration by award-winning Philadelphia Court Reporter Terri Maurer-Carter stating that at the time of Mumia’s 1982 trial, in the anteroom to Judge Albert Sabo’s courtroom, she overheard the judge state in relation to Mumia’s case, “Yeah, and I’m going to help ’em fry the nigger.”
This evidence, again demonstrating the racist frame-up of the innocent Pennsylvania death row inmate, Mumia Abu-Jamal, was filed on Aug. 28, 2001, in the Court of Common Pleas before Judge Pamela Dembe-who responded by rejecting Mumia’s claim for relief.
Dembe wrote: “The question before this court is not what attitudes and opinions the trial judge may have held. … Since this was a jury trial, as long as the presiding Judge’s rulings were legally correct, claims as to what might have motivated or animated those rulings are not relevant.”
One year later, on Aug. 27, 2002, Mumia’s attorneys formally appealed Dembe’s ruling-as well as her refusal to even consider the affidavit of Arnold Beverly stating that he, not Mumia Abu-Jamal, killed police officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981.
Speaking at a Philadelphia courthouse press conference, attorneys Marlene Kamish, Eliot Grossman, and Michael Farrell noted that the Dembe decision was akin to the infamous 1857 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Dred Scott v. Stanford. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s decision in that historic case is seen as a critical incident leading to the commencement of the Civil War.
Taney wrote: “The question is simply this, can a Negro, whose ancestors were imported to this country and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights and privileges and immunities guaranteed by that instrument to the citizen…?
“We think they are not … included under the word “citizen” … and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for….
“They had for more than a century been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race … and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect….”
The analogy between the Dred Scott decision and the ruling of Judge Dembe is indeed apt. What rights could a Black man have in a U.S. court today where the presiding judge (Dembe) rules that even the explicitly racist statements by Judge Sabo that he would be complicit in Mumia’s murder were deemed irrelevant?
Judge Dembe rejected calling Terri Maurer-Carter to the courtroom to ascertain the validity of her statement. It is likely that such a decision would have opened the floodgate to others who knew from direct experience that “hanging judge” Sabo, who had sentenced more people to death row (the vast majority Black) than any sitting judge in the United States, was racist to the core.
It is astonishing that anyone could believe for a moment that Judge Sabo could have stated that he was “going to help ’em fry the nigger” in one instant and entered the courtroom as an unbiased judge the next.
Indeed, Sabo’s bias was outrageous. It included rejecting Mumia’s right to serve as his own counsel, removing a Black juror that Mumia himself had selected before he was physically removed from the courtroom, allowing the prosecution to use preemptory challenges to remove 11 of 15 Black jurors, and refusing to allow a critical witness to appear who had a produced signed statement repudiating the alleged Mumia murder confession.
Mumia’s trial was so fundamentally flawed that organizations ranging from Amnesty International, the European Parliament, and the Japanese Diet to several national U.S. trade union federations (ILWU, AFSCME, SEIU, the national postal union) and the 1.8 million member California Labor Federation have rejected it in total and demand a new trial and/or Mumia’s freedom.
At every level of the judicial farce a new judge or public official comes forward to expound on the majesty of the law and the unbiased nature of the proceedings thus far conducted in Mumia’s case. A few examples are instructive:
- Judge Sabo excluded Mumia from most of his own murder trial, making no provision for Mumia to hear the proceedings against him. Sabo conspired to remove the single Black juror Mumia had selected before he was removed.
- Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge Ronald Castille, who has twice ruled to sustain Mumia’s lower court frame-up, was the Philadelphia District Attorney who ordered state officials to produce a training video designed to instruct state prosecutors on how to exclude Blacks from juries. Castille’s name and the state’s imprimatur appear on the now discredited video.
- Federal District Court Judge William H. Yohn Jr. cited chapter and verse to demonstrate that in U.S. courts “innocence is no defense.” Yohn wrote that “even if the [Arnold] Beverly confession was credible” it was submitted too late for consideration!
New amicus curiae brief
Simultaneous Philadelphia and Oakland, Calif., press conferences organized by Mumia supporters were held on Aug. 27 to announce the submission of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court appeal brief.
Pam Africa, leader of the International Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, told Socialist Action that the filing of the “Dred Scott” brief was covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News as well as local radio and television stations. A post-press conference rally was organized to further detail the legal atrocities perpetrated against Mumia.
In Oakland, some 30 Mumia supporters joined an Alameda Court House rally/press conference initiated by the Task Force to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, where attorney Michael Yamamoto described the contents of a new amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief he had submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Mumia’s behalf.
Yamamoto is the immediate past president of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the past president of the Japanese American Bar Association of Greater Los Angeles. Appointed by the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, he serves on the California Judicial Council Task Force on Jury Improvement.
Yamamoto’s brief, joined by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, details how Mumia “has been wrongfully convicted based on the testimony of unreliable witnesses, all of whom were either inherently suspect at the outset or subsequently shown to be testifying falsely.”
“All of the evidence submitted by the prosecution,” Yamamoto asserted, “when examined in connection with evidence submitted that has been obtained since the trial, can be shown to overwhelmingly support Mumia Abu-Jamal’s innocence and contradict the original and clearly erroneous verdict of guilty.”
Yamamoto’s brief reviews the confession of Arnold Beverly, the new testimony of Evette Williams (who repudiates the prosecution’s chief witness, Cynthia White) and several other critical new findings, all of which have been illegally barred from consideration by various court rulings. Yamamoto asserts that Mumia’s claim of innocence and the associated proof he has submitted to substantiate his innocence requires that the court consider all new evidence submitted on his behalf.
Clarence Thomas, secretary treasurer of ILWU, Local 10, linked the overt threats of government intervention against the ILWU should it exercise its right to strike to the illegal actions taken by government and court officials against Mumia.
Mumia’s life still in danger
Pennsylvania state officials have appealed last year’s Federal District Court ruling by Judge Yohn that reversed Judge Sabo’s improper instructions to the jury, thus voiding the Sabo court’s imposition of the death penalty. After 20 years, this was the first decision wrenched from the courts proving that Judge Sabo had committed fundamental errors.
Yohn was no doubt also moved by political considerations-that is, undercutting Mumia’s support by appearing to eliminate the threat of execution and thereby disengaging a section Mumia’s anti-death penalty supporters. But Mumia’s life is still in jeopardy.
Mumia’s attorneys, of course, have also appealed Yohn’s ruling upholding Mumia’s murder conviction and Yohn’s rejection of 28 of the 29 points in Mumia’s habeas corpus brief.
Yohn granted a “certificate of appealability” with regard to only a single point in Mumia’s brief, the exclusion of Black jurors. He utilized the reactionary provisions of the 1996 Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act to prevent what had previously been an automatic right to appeal his entire decision. Therefore, whether or not to hear Mumia’s appeal today will be subject to the “discretion” of the next court-but not mandatory.
For the moment, the Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, has refused consideration of both appeals until all outstanding matters are decided by the Pennsylvania state courts, including Mumia’s Aug. 27, 2002, appeal.
It is clear, however, that Mumia’s freedom and very life will not be won by reliance on the U.S. criminal “justice” system. The capacity of his supporters and all those who cherish civil liberties and democratic rights to build a massive national and international movement that makes the price of Mumia’s “legal” murder too high to pay will be decisive.
The national conference initiated by Mumia’s supporters for Nov. 15-16 at the University of California at Berkeley will be an important step in this direction.