Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Julian Bond Supports the Civil Rights Investigation on "Democracy Now"


Democracy Now, July 20, 2009

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Holder, the new Attorney General, also addressed the NAACP. Now, the NAACP has just passed a resolution asking him to investigate the case of another man on death row, Mumia Abu-Jamal. What is your stand on that case? What is the NAACP doing?

JULIAN BOND: Well, we’re going to ask Attorney General Holder to look into this, as anyone who’s followed this case for a number of years know that similar doubts have been raised about him as were raised about Troy Davis. And he’s had trouble bringing these doubts before a tribunal that can say, you know, these things are true or they’re not true. And we think he needs that chance. We think he needs that chance before the state of Pennsylvania decides to snuff his life out.

We oppose the death penalty, and particularly so in these cases where innocence seems likely, seems possible. I mean, just think of the notion of killing someone and then finding out later, boy, we made a terrible mistake, I’m so sorry. I mean, that cannot hold. That cannot be done. So we’re trying to, not only with the Mumia case, but other cases, we expect to talk to General Holder and see if he won’t put the force of the US government behind them.


By Linn Washington Jr.

During 1981, Philadelphia, Pa police proudly announced making arrests in four separate hi-profile homicides including the murders of two policemen.

However, investigations later revealed that police and prosecutors engaged in serious misconduct in each of those murder cases.

Two of those arrested in 1981 spent twenty-years in prison before newly discovered evidence exposed flawed confessions obtained by police. Another man spent 1,375-days on death row before his release, an ordeal that one judge described as a “Kafkaesque nightmare” due to illegal conduct mainly by police. A jury acquitted the teen arrested for one of the 1981 police killings citing lack of evidence.

Ironically, the one 1981 homicide arrest generating the most attention internationally is the one arrest authorities in Philadelphia declare contains not a single instance of impropriety by either police or prosecutors.

This is the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal – convicted of fatally shooting a Philadelphia policeman in December 1981.

The conviction of death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal is filled with serious violations of fundamental civil rights. Freedom from discrimination is a civil right, yet discriminatory actions by police, prosecutors and judges mare all aspects of the Abu-Jamal case.

The case against Abu-Jamal, cobbled from circumstantial evidence, constitutes a festering sore on America’s justice system. Those demanding Abu-Jamal’s execution cavalierly ignore inconclusive forensics, tainted eyewitness testimony and a specious confession.

Violations comprising the injustice of Abu-Jamal’s conviction include the kinds of structural deficiencies that drive exonerations and official investigations nationwide: police fabricating evidence, multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of defense counsel plus judicial wrongdoing.

One of the most egregious violations is the public pronouncement by the judge presiding at Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial that he was going to help prosecutors “fry the Nigger.”

That odious admission by Judge Albert Sabo oozing lack of impartiality and racial bigotry clearly violated Abu-Jamal’s constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial.

An essential pillar in a constitutionally fair trial, experts agree, is having an “impartial judge” who does not act as “either an assisting prosecutor or a thirteenth juror.”

Assertions by Abu-Jamal’s opponents that his obvious guilt negates any need for following fair trial procedures contradict long established law.

The Pa Supreme Court declared in a 1959 ruling that defendants are entitled “to all the safeguards of a fair trial…even if the evidence of guilt piles as high as Mt. Everest.”

That fair trial right exists irrespective of whether judges or prosecutors are convinced of a defendant’s guilt, the Pa Supreme Court stated in that ruling issued when Abu-Jamal was four-years-old.

That 1959 ruling arose from a Philadelphia murder case where the defendant had pled guilty. Abu-Jamal has consistently proclaimed his innocence in the shooting death of Officer Daniel Faulkner --- before, during and after his trial.

Even some who feel Abu-Jamal could be guilty as charged also believe Abu-Jamal received an unfair trial.

Respected lawyer/journalist Stuart Taylor, in a 1996 article, asserted that Abu-Jamal “received an unfair trial” despite also contending that a “strong probably” existed that Abu-Jamal killed Officer Daniel Faulkner…when Jamal came to the aid of his brother who was being beaten by Faulkner during a traffic stop.

Echoing conclusions of other investigators, Taylor found unfairness in “grossly inadequate defense lawyering, flagrantly biased judging and, in all probability, police fabrication of evidence and intimidation of witnesses.”

Prosecutors contributed to undermining Abu-Jamal’s fair trial rights by withholding evidence of innocence from the defense and the jury during the 1982 trial. This suppression included withholding evidence of a third person at the crime scene other than Abu-Jamal and his brother. Abu-Jamal’s defense centered on the claim that Faulkner’s shooter fled – a contention consistent with eyewitness reports that Faulkner’s shooter fled.

Violations of fair trial procedures by prosecutors are a problem in Pa and nationwide. An October 2007 American Bar Association report chided top prosecutorial officials in Pennsylvania for not complying with “all legal, professional and ethical obligations to disclose to the defense information…and tangible documents…”

Incredibly, state and federal courts including the US Supreme Court have repeatedly dismissed the vile violations in Abu-Jamal’s case when denying his appeals for a new trial.

Dismissals in the Abu-Jamal case contradict those same courts citing chillingly similar violations when voiding over 200 Pa death penalty convictions since 1978.

The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, has voided Philadelphia first degree murder convictions upon findings that prosecutors engaged in racially biased jury selection practices.

Yet, in 2008, a 3rd Circuit panel dismissed Abu-Jamal’s jury bias claim by creating a new standard for proving that claim.

That new proof standard was far stiffer than that Circuit’s existing precedent, exceeding even jury bias proof standards utilized in a US Supreme Court ruling weeks earlier authored by Justice Samuel Alito, a former 3rd Circuit jurist.

The dissenting judge in that 3rd Circuit ruling – the first ever dissent in an Abu-Jamal case ruling – upbraided his panel colleagues for seizing Abu-Jamal’s case to change established procedures.

Adherence to precedent is supposedly a fundamental principle of the American legal system. Patterns of failing to follow precedent produces what is dubbed the “Abu-Jamal Exception” – the practice of judges craftily changing precedent to exclude extending Abu-Jamal the legal relief given to other defendants raising the same legal issues.

Documented violations in this closely watched case convince groups as diverse as Amnesty International and the national NAACP that Abu-Jamal is the victim of double standards of justice. The NAACP approved a resolution at its centennial convention in July 2009 calling on the US Department of Justice to investigate civil rights violations in the Abu-Jamal case.

The enormous attention given to the ‘whodunit’ aspects underlying Abu-Jamal’s contentious conviction easily obscures critical context regarding systemic violations by Philadelphia authorities. Failing to factor in this important context elevates the credibility of fallacious claims about Abu-Jamal’s guilt.

One fallacious claim is that police did not frame Abu-Jamal. Evidence from the now proven improprieties in those three other high profile 1981 homicides refutes this claim.

The case of the 1981 arrest producing that wrongful death sentence provides a compelling example of Philadelphia police framing an innocent man.

Philadelphia police had arrested Neil Ferber six months before their December 1981 arrest of Abu-Jamal, charging Ferber with murdering an organized crime figure.

The judge presiding at the trial where Ferber sought compensation for his wrongful incarceration stated in his post-trial opinion that “a variety of Philadelphia police officers” engaged in a litany of illegal conduct “all for the singular purpose of obtaining Ferber’s arrest and subsequent conviction…”

Common sense compels consideration of the conclusion that if Philadelphia police would callously frame a man for a mob murder police could frame a man charged with murdering a fellow police officer.

Persons rejecting evidence of police framing Abu-Jamal ignore a disturbing fact uncovered by investigative reporter Dave Lindorff, author of a book on the Abu-Jamal case. Lindorff documented that seventeen of the 35 police officers involved in the MAJ investigation were later indicted and/or disciplined for misconduct that included manufacturing evidence designed to frame suspects.

Federal investigations and findings by courts have repeatedly documented illegal practices by Philadelphia police and prosecutors.

In 1979, two years before Abu-Jamal’s arrest, the US Justice Department filed an unprecedented civil rights violation lawsuit against 21 top Philadelphia officials – including the city’s then Mayor – charging them with actively backing violent police brutality…abusive misconduct frequently utilizing fabricated evidence to discredit victims and defend their police assailants.

Claims presented at trial about Abu-Jamal’s alleged confession first arose during an investigation into his complaint of suffering police beatings on the day of his arrest – at the crime scene and inside a hospital emergency room.

During that brutality investigation, two officers suddenly remembered hearing Abu-Jamal confess at the hospital. This pair included the officer who brought Abu-Jamal from the crime scene to the hospital who filed a report three hours after Abu-Jamal’s arrest stating Abu-Jamal made “no comments.”

Authorities fired that officer, Gary Wakshul, three years after Abu-Jamal’s arrest. Police officials fired Wakshul for viciously beating a man, including a near fatal assault inside a hospital emergency room.

In 1978, three years before Abu-Jamal’s arrest, the Pa Supreme Court blasted Philadelphia homicide prosecutors for “perpetrating a falsehood and fraud.” This misconduct included having the former head of the DA’s Homicide Unit provide false testimony against a murder defendant. That Supreme Court ruling specifically criticized the “misleading” testimony of ex-Unit head Ed Rendell, who at the time of Abu-Jamal’s trial, served as Philadelphia’s District Attorney.

Courts – state and federal – have overturned many murder convictions obtained during Rendell’s tenure as District Attorney citing instances of misconduct by homicide prosecutors inclusive of withholding evidence of innocence and engaging in racially discriminatory jury selection practices.

The Pa Supreme Court, in a 1999 ruling involving “extensive and flagrant prosecutorial misconduct” released two reputed Philadelphia mob members convicted of a high-profile murder, ruling this pair was denied a fair trial. That unfair trial took place two years after Abu-Jamal’s trial during Rendell’s DA tenure.

The Pa Supreme released those two mob members directly from prison, one year after its 1998 Abu-Jamal case ruling where that Court rejected voluminous claims of prosecutorial misconduct during Abu-Jamal’s trial and his appeal proceedings.

Incidentally, five of the seven Court justices participating in that 1998 ruling against Abu-Jamal received substantial electoral financing and other support from Philadelphia’s police union – the leading proponent of Abu-Jamal’s execution.

A February 2000 Amnesty International report on Abu-Jamal’s case expressed concern about the “political support” Pa justices receive from police organizations noting the prospect of “severe political backlash” against any justice challenging Abu-Jamal’s conviction.

Pa judicial ethics require judges to remove themselves from cases they handled while serving as government lawyers. Yet, a former Philadelphia DA-turned-Pa Supreme Court Justice – who’s received extensive police union backing – has repeatedly refused to remove himself from Abu-Jamal appeals.

Equal protection of laws is an essential aspect of civil rights. The Blacks Law Dictionary – cited as authority by judges – defines equal protection of the law in part as: “no person shall be denied the same protection of laws which is enjoyed by other persons in like circumstances…”

Pa Supreme Court rulings in 1988 and 1989 provide glaring evidence of equal protection violations.

In March 1988, the Pa Supreme Court issued a ruling granting a new trial to a Pa State Trooper charged with fatally shooting a woman inside a judge’s office. That Trooper shot the woman he accused of burglarizing his home during a court proceeding involving that burglary.

The Court ruled the Trooper did not receive a fair trial because the presiding judge made a single statement questioning the professional credentials of a defense witness. The Court deemed that single statement as offering an improper ‘opinion.’

However, one year later, the same Court found no fair trial fault in numerous opinion laden statements by Judge Sabo during Abu-Jamal’s trial – including Sabo assailing the professional competency of Abu-Jamal’s attorney in front of the jury.

Equal protection violations comprise a consistent thread in the trial and appellate court rejections of Abu-Jamal’s legal claims.

These violations include the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1990s twice refusing to consider Abu-Jamal’s claim that prosecutors violated his First Amendment association rights with inflammatory references to his teenaged membership in the Black Panther Party.

Although Abu-Jamal had voluntarily left the BPP 12-years before his 1982 trial, prosecutors speciously argued his former BPP membership spurred his killing a cop.

The U.S. Supreme Court, months after rejecting Abu-Jamal’s first appeal, granted a new hearing to a murderer who challenged prosecutorial reference to his current membership in a violent white racist prison gang. Following the favorable ruling for the racist, Abu-Jamal unsuccessfully sought Supreme Court reconsideration of his association right claim citing that Court’s ruling in the white racist’s case.

Months after spurning Abu-Jamal a second time, the Supreme Court granted a new hearing to a white murderer challenging prosecutorial reference of his membership in a devil worshipping cult. When giving relief to the devil worshipper, the Supreme Court cited the precedence of its ruling in the racist’s case.

Equal protection of laws seemingly should have provided an ex-Black Panther with the same protection of laws as a white racist and white devil worshipper given the similarities of their appeal circumstances.

The failures of federal and state courts to correct the gross violations in Abu-Jamal’s case, compounding the illegal conduct of police and prosecutors, cries out for an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department requested by organizations and individuals concerned about America’s bedrock principal of equal justice under law.

It is true that courts enjoy wide discretion in interpreting law as those courts deemed appropriate.

However, the fact that state and federal courts have rejected every evidentiary issue and all but one procedural error issue presented in the Abu-Jamal case raises real questions about courts acting in accordance with the principle of equal-justice-under-law.

To accept the assertion that the Abu-Jamal case is one of open-&-shut guilt free of any error requires embracing scenarios that defy logic, law and the proven official misconduct in those other 1981 Philadelphia homicide arrests.

--Linn Washington Jr. is a Yale Law Journalism Fellowship graduate and Philadelphia Tribune columnist who has investigated the Abu-Jamal case since December 9, 1981 – the day of Abu-Jamal’s arrest.


People, get on board the next step of our relentless Campaign for a Civil Rights Investigation of the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal!

This Saturday, August 15th, Pam Africa, leader of the worldwide movement to Free Mumia, is addressing the NAACP Pennsylvania State meeting. This is very significant as that state has been led by Jerry Mondesire, an individual who has historically been very hostile to Mumia and to Pam Africa and MOVE. With the recent support the national NAACP has given the call for a Civil Rights Investigation of Mumia's case, through both a resolution and a very strong statement by Chairman Julian Bond, even Mondesire is responding.

Saturday's meeting is being held at 9 AM at the Radisson Hotel in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition will be supporting Pam Africa with our educational flyers and gorgeous signs, reaching out to the State membership and pressuring the leadership to carry out the mandate of the Resolution just passed by the National NAACP Convention.

Be there and help consolidate this new trajectory of Mumia's case! We leave midtown New York at 6:30am (yes, that early) and we'll be back by 6:30pm. Round-trip transportation to the front door of the Radisson is only $20. Book fast by calling 212-330-8029. Refreshments will be provided. Bring lunch, if you wish..

Free Mumia and all Political Prisoners!

NAACP calling for U.S. action on Mumia case

Written by Larry Miller, Philadelphia Tribune, July 13, 2009

The case of Mumia Abu Jamal surfaced again when earlier this month NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said the 100-year-old civil rights organization was asking Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the case.

On a segment of Democracy Now, aired on July 20, Bond, speaking with moderator Amy Goodman and citing the case of Troy Davis, stated Holder should look into the case because over the years serious doubts have been raised over whether Abu Jamal received a fair trial.

"We're going to ask Attorney General Holder to look into this," Bond said during the broadcast. "As anyone who's followed this case for a number of years knows that similar doubts have been raised about him as were raised about Troy Davis. And he's had trouble bringing these doubts before a tribunal that can say, you know, these things are true or they're not true. And we think he needs that chance. We think he needs that chance before the state of Pennsylvania decides to snuff his life out."

Bond said the NAACP opposes the death penalty, and particularly so in cases where innocence seems possible.

"I mean, just think of the notion of killing someone and then finding out later, boy, we made a terrible mistake, I'm so sorry," Bond said. "I mean, that cannot hold. That cannot be done. So we're trying to, not only with the Mumia case, but other cases, we expect to talk to General Holder and see if he won't put the force of the U.S. government behind them."

But concern for Mumia doesn't stop there. The day before Bond's statement, former Rep. Cynthia McKinney sent a letter to Holder also requesting that the Justice Department conduct a civil rights investigation of the case.

"I am writing to ask for your personal and immediate intervention to put an end to a grave injustice. Anyone who has read the reports, as I have, including briefs and opinions of the courts, knows that Mumia Abu Jamal was tried and convicted amid sensationalism and hysteria that, at its core, constituted a racial frenzy," McKinney wrote. "Indicting words from the judge, himself, point to racism and prejudice even inside the courtroom. The `Batson Issue' should be of real concern to everyone interested in justice. Sadly, Mumia was convicted amid the very racial cowardice of which you, yourself, have spoken."

McKinney said the "imperative for a civil rights investigation is clear in Abu Jamal's case."

Pam Africa, a long-time supporter of Abu Jamal and coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal, said her colleagues have been trying since 2004 to get the Justice Department to look into the case.

"We were told that if we could show evidence of a consistent and on-going conspiracy to keep Mumia from getting a new trial, then they could look into it," she said. "Having Julian Bond push for this, getting Professor Charles Ogletree's involvement is just what's needed in getting the NAACP's resolution on this case. It's not just about Mumia; this covers Troy Davis, Marshall Eddie Conway and Reggie Clemons. Now is the time to keep the pressure up because Mumia doesn't have a chance without the people's pressure. There was no fair trial. There's going to be a massive movement on this because Mumia is innocent."

December 2008 marked the 27th anniversary of the death of police Officer Daniel Faulkner, allegedly by Abu Jamal, a fiery journalist-turned cab driver.

Since that tragic December night in 1981, the case has been mired in controversy, with accusations of racial discrimination during the trial process being raised almost from the beginning.

Since Abu Jamal's conviction, his defense attorneys have filed numerous appeals and his supporters have staged endless protests calling for his release from prison.

They say there is no doubt in their minds that Abu Jamal is innocent. They also contend that he didn't squeeze the trigger that ended Faulkner's life and that he didn't get a fair trial.

Maureen Faulkner, widow of the slain officer, has stated numerous times that she has no doubt in her mind that Abu Jamal murdered her husband.

"The bottom line is that there were eyewitnesses that saw what happened that night, and the evidence, the ballistics show that Mumia Abu Jamal murdered my husband," said Faulkner on an edition of WHYY's Radio Times. "He confessed in the emergency room, and several people heard him confess, saying `I shot the MF-er and I hope he dies' ... Priscilla Durham, she testified in the court in 1982 that she heard him, the security guard. This man confessed to murdering my husband."

This year of 2009 could well mark the beginning of the next round of protests.

District Attorney Lynne Abraham is calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate Abu Jamal's death sentence and both the DA's office and Abu Jamal's vocal supporters are awaiting a decision.

In March 2008, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit upheld the 1982 murder conviction. The court also upheld a 2001 ruling that tossed out the death penalty because the jury was improperly instructed and agreed with a lower court ruling that Abu Jamal would have to receive a new penalty hearing before he could be executed.

If the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office decides not to grant a death penalty hearing, Abu Jamal would automatically be sentenced to life in prison, an apparent victory, but not as far as Abu Jamal's supporters are concerned.

"Life in prison is not a victory for Mumia, not as far as we're concerned," Africa said.

On Nov. 18, 2008, the District Attorney's Office filed papers asking the Supreme Court to review the lower court's decision.

Hilary Shelton, director, NAACP Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, said there is enough controversy and conflicting evidence in the case to warrant a new trial for Abu Jamal.

"The formal position of the NAACP on this case is that Abu Jamal deserves a new trial," Shelton said. "There's enough contradictory evidence and conflicting statements to call for this. We're also calling for his removal from death row. There's no reason to keep him under that lock up."

Shelton said in the past, the civil rights organization has been asking the United States Attorney General and the Justice Department to review the case.

During past NAACP national conventions and board meetings, resolutions were passed regarding this issue. Shelton said it was the hope of the NAACP that Holder would move forward with their request.

"We spoke with him about Abu Jamal soon after his confirmation and he was familiar with the case," Shelton said. "Our president Benjamin Jealous has also expressed his concerns and mentioned it during our last convention, along with the racial disparity of the death penalty. We do recognize the discrimination regarding this. Abu Jamal deserves a new trial and we fully support this along with the Justice Department's efforts in this matter."