Mumia Wins & Loses in the Courts

by Jeff Mackler / July 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

The June 13 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Thomas Miller-El v. Dretke, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice opens the door wide for a new trial for journalist, and innocent political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Jamal has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for 23 years as a result of a 1982 Philadelphia racist frame-up trial.

The Supreme Court ruled that the preemptive striking by Texas prosecutors of 10 of 11 Black jurors violated Miller-El’s constitutional right of equal protection. Miller-El was convicted of murder in a 1985 Dallas County, Texas, trial. At the time Texas prosecutors used state-produced training manuals with explicit instructions as to how to exclude Blacks and Jews from
capital juries.

In an earlier and related case, Miller-El v. Cockrell, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a provision of the reactionary 1996 Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) that essentially eliminated appeal rights or habeas corpus by applying a standard of proof of innocence that was virtually impossible to meet. This Clinton-era legislation was designed to limit federal appeals in capital cases.

The AEDPA was employed by Judge William H. Yohn Jr. in Mumia’s Federal District Court appeal to deny virtually all of the 29 constitutional and factual
issues that Mumia raised in his defense.

The two Miller-El decisions bode well for Mumia’s current appeal, currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit. Mumia’s 1982
Philadelphia trial, conducted by the “hanging judge” Albert Sabo, included the prosecution’s use of preemptive challenges to eliminate 11 of 14 potential Black jurors.

As with Thomas Miller-El’s trial in Texas, the state of Pennsylvania had employed an overtly racist training manual, in video form, instructing
prosecutors on how to remove Black jurors.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Miller-El’s death sentence and ordered the state of Texas to either immediately release him or to conduct a new trial.
Mumia’s lead counsel, Robert R. Bryan, told Socialist Action that the Supreme Court’s June 13 decision applied directly to Mumia.

Also, the Miller-El v. Cockrell decision may lead to the reversal of Judge Yohn’s refusal to grant “certificates of appealability” to Mumia in regard to
several of the 29 points in Mumia’s original federal appeal, where the impossible AEDPA standards, now defunct, were applied with impunity.

City judge rules against Mumia

In a separate development, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe on June 16 finalized her decision to exclude evidence of Mumia’s innocence from the record. Dembe refused to consider the
affidavits submitted on behalf of Mumia by Yvette William and Donald Pate.

Williams had affirmed that the prosecution’s chief eyewitness against Mumia, Cynthia White, lied on the witness stand. While both were incarcerated in the
same prison, White admitted to Williams that Philadelphia police had forced her to testify that she saw Mumia shoot and kill Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, when in fact White had not been on the murder scene.

White, who had some 26 outstanding charges of prostitution and check fraud against her, was threatened with indefinite imprisonment unless she cooperated with the prosecution.

Donald Pate’s half-sister, Priscilla Durham, a hospital security guard, testified at Mumia’s trial that she had heard Mumia confess to Faulkner’s murder while Mumia was in Jefferson Hospital. Pate states that Durham told him that she lied under police pressure.

Judge Dembe, appointed as Sabo’s successor upon his death in 2001, has consistently rejected defense evidence exposing Mumia’s frame-up.

Mayor Street reverses himself again

In a June 20 meeting with Pam Africa, leader of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Philadelphia Mayor John Street denied having stated on Feb. 16 in a phone conversation with the slain policeman’s wife, Maureen Faulkner, that “Mumia murdered Daniel Faulkner and he was in prison where he belonged.”

Several Mumia supporters accompanied Africa at this meeting, including MOVE leader Ramona Africa and Ossining, N.Y., NAACP leader Sadiq Sundiata. Despite Street’s denial, however, he rejected Africa’s request
to publicly reaffirm his position supporting a new trial for Mumia.

Street’s alleged Feb. 16 statement was originally reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, based on information obtained
from Maureen Faulkner.

When Street served as a Philadelphia city councilman he often stated that Mumia had not received a fair trial. During last summer’s NAACP national convention in Philadelphia, Street’s administrative assistant, Connie Little, helped draft a strong resolution supporting Mumia’s fight for a new trial. The
resolution was approved by a near-unanimous vote of the delegates.

Street’s reversal came following the Feb. 10 visit to Philadelphia of a French delegation representing the cities of Paris and St. Denis.

The Paris city government had previously granted Mumia honorary citizenship. Neighboring St. Denis announced that the street leading to France’s largest sports stadium, named after Nelson Mandela and set to host
the 2008 Olympics, was to be renamed Mumia Abu-Jamal Street. The joint delegation had come to Philadelphia to protest the cancellation of a hearing ordered by Judge Dembe, where the Terri Maurer Carter evidence was to be considered.

Philadelphia officials welcomed the French delegation and presented them with a miniature replica of the Liberty Bell. Their effort evoked rage from the city’s dailies, which attacked the delegation as “communists” and demanded that the mayor repudiate the gift. Street ran for cover, apparently capitulating to the media pressure, while the media played up Faulkner’s report that Street had said Mumia was justly sentenced.

Street, a preeminent equivocator and political opportunist, may well shift again with the prevailing winds. In the meantime, Mumia’s defenders have held his feet to the fire, demanding that he make good on his original pledge to support a new trial.

While Mumia’s appeals, in various stages, slowly move through the state and federal courts, the state of Pennsylvania continues to seek his execution.

Should the U.S. Court of Appeals rule in favor of the state appeal of an earlier decision ordering Mumia to be sentenced to life imprisonment as opposed to
execution, Mumia’s life will again be in immediate danger, as a third order for his execution will likely be drawn up by Gov. Ed Rendell.

While all legal avenues are being exhausted to win Mumia’s freedom, his supporters have always believed that his life rests in the movement’s capacity to make the political price of his execution and continued incarceration too high to pay. Mumia has remained alive only due to the international movement that has stayed the hand of his would-be executioners.

To support Mumia on the East Coast, call (215) 476-8812. On the West Coast, call (415) 255-1085 or click on

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SPONSORED By THE MOBILIZATION TO FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL & THE INTERNATIONAL CONCERNED FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF MUMIA ABU-JAMAL. CO-SPONSORS: Courage Foundation/Assange & Middle East Children’s Alliance, Arab Resource Organizing Center. HEAR Alice Walker, prize-winning novelist; Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers; Jamal Jr, Mumia’s grandson; Chris Hedges, prize-winning journalist