Court Battle Looms

Mumia Abu-Jamal
Is an Innocent Man
Free Him Now!

This article is an edited reprint from Workers Vanguard No. 862 (20 January).

The fight for freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost class-war prisoner, has reached a critical juncture. On 6 December 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Pennsylvania ordered Mumia’s legal team to file his appeals brief by January 17. [After the court granted a postponement, the prosecution submitted its briefs in late March. Mumia’s papers are due by July 13.] The possible outcome of this appeal could range from overturning his conviction and granting a new trial, or mandating new hearings on his constitutional claims, to reinstating the death sentence, paving the way for a new death warrant.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted on demonstrably false charges of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner on 9 December 1981. As an outspoken journalist and supporter of the MOVE organization, he was known as “the voice of the voiceless.” In 1982 Mumia was sentenced to die explicitly for his political views and his past membership in the Black Panther Party. His case must become a focal point of struggle against the capitalist “justice” system and its death penalty—a legacy of black chattel slavery that exposes the naked brutality of this class-divided and racially segregated society. The execution of Stanley Tookie Williams in California in December signaled the rulers’ intention to carry out Mumia’s execution and to speed up the machinery of legal lynching. In denying Williams clemency, California governor Schwarzenegger cited the fact that Williams had dedicated his 1998 book, Life in Prison, to Mumia, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and others. Abolish the racist death penalty!

In December 2001, U.S. District Court judge William Yohn threw out Mumia’s death sentence but left the conviction intact despite mountains of evidence of his innocence. Prosecutors are appealing to reinstate the death sentence. Mumia’s lawyers have continued to add to the evidence of innocence, most importantly Arnold Beverly’s confession that he shot the Philadelphia police officer for whose killing Jamal was falsely convicted. But the courts have repeatedly refused to allow Beverly’s confession to be heard because it would expose the fact that Mumia’s conviction was an intentional frame-up of an innocent man.

Due to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act signed by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996, which dramatically cut back the rights of state prisoners to appeal their cases in federal court, the appeals court is not required to consider all of Mumia’s claims. One issue it will hear is the racist jury-rigging in the 1982 trial, where Philadelphia prosecutor Joseph McGill struck at least 10 of 14 eligible black jurors. Of the two black people who made it onto the jury, one black woman was removed during the trial by Judge Albert Sabo.

Of the two additional issues the court is allowing, one is the outrageous bias of Judge Sabo. Mumia’s legal papers have repeatedly challenged the bias of this racist “prosecutor in robes,” which infected every stage of the trial, from blocking important evidence of innocence and saddling Mumia with an incompetent lawyer to barring him from the courtroom for days. Court stenographer Terri Maurer-Carter came forward in 2001 to reveal that during the period of the trial she overheard Sabo say, referring to Mumia, “I’m going to help ’em fry the n----r.”

Mumia’s post-conviction appeals from 1995 to 1997 were assigned back to Sabo, allowing him to “judge” the fairness of his own conduct. Throughout the post-conviction proceedings, Sabo interfered with Mumia’s presentation of new evidence and declared all of the defense witnesses “incredible,” with the intent of shielding evidence of his innocence from further court review. The federal appeals court is only hearing the issue of Sabo’s bias during the post-conviction hearings and not of the bias so vividly displayed at the original trial.

The other issue the court will hear is McGill’s closing argument to the jury, which erased the “reasonable doubt” standard. In effect, McGill argued that jurors should convict Mumia despite any doubts they had, because “If you find the Defendant guilty, of course, there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final.” In earlier death penalty cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had overruled the same arguments by the same prosecutor. But in this case the court and the prosecutors applied “Mumia rules” in their effort to railroad him.

The urgent need to mobilize the social power of organized labor and its allies for Mumia’s freedom was a central theme of the Partisan Defense Committee’s 20th annual Holiday Appeal for Class-War Prisoners, held last December in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Oakland and Toronto. We print below a speech at the New York City benefit, edited for publication, by Rachel Wolkenstein, staff counsel for the PDC and formerly a member of Mumia’s legal team.

* * *

Today marks the 24th anniversary of Mumia’s arrest for the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner, a crime the police, the prosecution and the courts know Mumia did not commit. For over 23 years Mumia has been on death row. All elements of the “criminal justice system” have colluded to kill this man for the crime of being an eloquent and effective critic of racist oppression. Mumia has said that he is “fighting to create revolution in America. Revolution means total change.” To the American capitalist state, that means Mumia is a dead man on leave.

It is necessary and urgent, now more than ever, as Mumia’s case moves into the last stages of the legal proceedings, to mobilize on the basis that Mumia is an innocent man, known as the voice of the voiceless. He’s on death row because of a political, racist frame-up. The federal appeals court has now put Mumia’s case on what they call a “fast track” for decision. That means within about six months’ time the court will decide what is next for Mumia: death, life in prison or more legal proceedings.

The federal appeals court is not required to consider all the issues that Mumia has raised—and virtually every right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights was violated in Mumia’s case. Nor is the appeals court considering the evidence of Mumia’s innocence or the state frame-up. It is going to decide in the first instance whether or not to uphold Mumia’s death sentence. It is very good and important that the appeals court is now allowing other challenges. These are based on the racially biased jury selection; the D.A.’s prejudicial summary argument to the jury in which he falsely stated that Mumia would have “appeal after appeal,” meaning that it didn’t matter if he was convicted by the jury; and lastly, a challenge to the kangaroo, lynch mob appeal hearings before the notorious judge Albert Sabo in 1995, ’96 and ’97. Sabo was popularly known as the King of Death Row. But the real point is that Mumia should never have been arrested, tried or convicted. And our fight is to free Mumia, now!

The courts do not sit in judgment and rule in isolation. There has been and continues to be a concerted effort by all wings of the capitalist class—represented by both the Democratic and Republican parties—to see Mumia executed. It will take the social power of organized labor and its allies to create the type of pressure needed to obtain Mumia’s freedom—a mass movement centrally based on the power of the working class. The power to withhold labor—to strike. Imagine what it would mean if New York transit struck—not only to secure a decent wage, health care and job conditions, but to demand Mumia’s freedom!

The danger faced by Mumia today began back in 1969 when he was a 15-year-old spokesman for the Black Panther Party, targeted by the FBI’s murderous COINTELPRO campaign. The message to the Black Panther Party by FBI director Hoover was: “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teachings, they will be dead revolutionaries.” This was the policy of the Democratic Party president, Lyndon Johnson, and his attorney general, Ramsey Clark. Because Mumia appeared and spoke in public at the age of 15 and 16, the FBI put him under daily surveillance. They put him on the Security Index, which was then the version of a terrorist list—those to be rounded up and thrown into a concentration camp if there is a national emergency. Despite the state’s efforts shown in some 900 pages of FBI COINTELPRO files on Mumia, which the PDC secured on Mumia’s behalf, the state could not come up with even one offense to pin on him.

Mumia’s case is a textbook case of police frame-up, an object lesson in the class nature of the capitalist state, which is by no means neutral. The state is an instrument for the organized violence by one class, the capitalist class, defending the profit system—against the working people, against minorities. In the United States, the segregation of the majority of the black population at the bottom of society is key. This state violence is expressed in the terror and frame-ups carried out by racist, brutal, corrupt police and enforced in the capitalist courts.

Understanding this, and acting on this understanding, provide the only way forward to victory—to Mumia’s freedom. While all legal proceedings and legal remedies must be pursued on Mumia’s behalf, we cannot have any illusions in or reliance on the capitalist courts, nor in bourgeois politicians, whether they be black or white, Democratic, Republican or Green. The fight to free Mumia must be undertaken independent of the racist capitalist state.

The capitalist injustice system is neither fair nor reformable. Demands for a new trial will not lead to Mumia’s freedom. These demands only breed illusions in the capitalist courts, and these illusions demobilized a movement of millions around the world. They were raised by many so-called socialist organizations and their front groups, organizations such as the Workers World Party, the International Socialist Organization, Socialist Action and the like. The mass movement has to be built anew on the basis that Mumia’s conviction and death sentence were politically driven, and that it is in the interests of all working people, black and white, citizen and immigrant, to join together and fight for his freedom. The fight for Mumia’s freedom is part of the fight for black equality in America, which itself is part of the broader fight against the capitalist system.

That truth has been shown over two decades of court appeals in Mumia’s case. His case has been through the Pennsylvania courts to the U.S. Supreme Court three times, including three post-conviction evidentiary hearings. Each and every court has rejected evidence of Mumia’s innocence, evidence of police and prosecutorial frame-up, of trial and appeal proceedings which denied even a scintilla of due process. And over the past three years, courts—federal and state—refused to consider the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed police officer Faulkner. Federal court judge Yohn overturned Mumia’s death sentence over three years ago. But while the government appeals, Mumia is still on death row, 23 hours a day, locked in solitary in a cell which he has described as if you’re living in a bathroom.

Mumia Was a Marked Man

So I want to talk a little bit about what happened on the early morning hours of 9 December 1981. The prosecution’s story is a pretty simple one, and that story has been exposed over and over as false—as lies based on witnesses who were threatened or bought, on non-existent ballistics evidence and on a totally fabricated confession invented by police some two months after the shooting. According to the D.A., two people were on the street corner at Locust and 13th in Philadelphia at approximately 4 a.m.: Mumia’s brother Billy Cook and police officer Daniel Faulkner. Mumia reportedly ran across the street when he saw his brother being beaten by the cop. Then, according to the police, Mumia—some 26 years old, known for his mild manner and level-headedness—supposedly shot the cop in the back. Then the cop shot back at Mumia, and then Mumia stood over the fallen cop and shot him “execution style” several times in the head. This is all lies—even by close examination of the cops’ and D.A.’s own “evidence.”

Now, to understand the frame-up of black radical journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, you need to remember COINTELPRO and some of the particulars of Philadelphia. In many ways it’s a Southern city up North. The Philly police and its intelligence division provided a model for the FBI’s COINTELPRO. Mumia was personally very well-known to the Philly police and the FBI as a key founder and leader of the Philly Black Panther Party. He was known for things like protesting the December 1969 Chicago cop and FBI murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and for mobilizing students to change the name of Benjamin Franklin High School to Malcolm X High School. Also for writing for the Black Panther national newspaper and then becoming an award-winning radio journalist, exposing the rampant cop brutality, including the attacks on the MOVE organization and the frame-up trial of the MOVE 9.

The Philadelphia Police Department is also uniquely the only police department in the country that the federal Justice Department tried to put into receivership because of its racial bias, police brutality and corruption. That was 1979. At the time of the murder of Faulkner in 1981, there were at least three ongoing federal investigations into police corruption, including police and mob connections. Police working as FBI informants were victims of hits in the early ’80s. A former federal prosecutor acknowledged that the Feds had a police informant whose brother was a cop, just as Faulkner had a brother who was a cop.

An FBI informant who worked the prostitutes in the red light district, under police protection, confirms that at the time of Faulkner’s shooting the word was out that the Feds had a police informant. The commanding officer of the Central Police Division, where the murder of Faulkner took place, the chief of the homicide division and one Inspector Alfonzo Giordano were all under investigation at the time on federal corruption charges. These cops were literally the chain of command in the frame-up of Mumia.

Inspector Giordano was the ranking officer on the scene. He was the central witness against Mumia at the preliminary hearing after Mumia’s arrest. He not only was one of the cops under investigation for corruption, but he had been Frank Rizzo’s right-hand man. Rizzo had been Philadelphia police chief and then became a notorious mayor. Giordano was involved in the daily surveillance of Black Panther Party members, leading the police “Stakeout” squad in the 1970 attacks on the Black Panther Party headquarters. And Giordano was also the police supervisor of the year-long siege of the MOVE Powelton Village house through 1978. He knew just who Mumia was.

It is with these facts in mind that the confession of Arnold Beverly must be considered. Beverly states that he and another man were hired by the police and the mob to murder Faulkner, and that Faulkner was a problem for the corrupt police and the mob because he interfered with the graft and payoffs in the Center City area.

The proof of Mumia’s innocence is more than Beverly’s confession or the lie detector test that Beverly passed. It is the volumes of previous, internally contradictory witness testimony, of physical evidence that did not fit the prosecution’s story but which clearly supports Beverly’s version of what happened on 9 December 1981.

Faulkner was shot and killed by more than one hired hitman in the Center City red light district as the after-hours clubs were closing. Billy Cook confirms that there was a plan to kill Faulkner that night and that the other person in his car, Ken Freeman, was involved in that plan. Witnesses said that a second person was in Cook’s car and ran away. Many police were either on the scene or close to the scene to make sure the hit went off without any problems. This included members of the police Stakeout unit and undercover cops.

Prosecution’s Web of Lies

Even with police and prosecution threats and favors at the time of the 1982 trial, no witnesses testified that they saw Mumia actually shoot Faulkner, and only one witness, the prostitute Cynthia White, testified that she thought she saw a gun in Mumia’s hand when he ran to the scene. Since then, several other prostitutes have sworn that she admitted she lied due to police and prosecution threats and favors. Witnesses have said that the shooter ran away, and some five witnesses, including two of the cops, have said that the shooter wore a green army jacket. Both Beverly and Freeman were wearing green army jackets that night. But Mumia was wearing a red quilted ski jacket with wide vertical blue stripes, and Billy Cook wore a blue Nehru-style jacket with brass buttons. There is no green army jacket in any of the police evidence.

Beverly states that Faulkner was shot and killed before Mumia ever got on the scene and that Mumia was not shot by Faulkner but by another police officer. Homicide cops on the scene told the medical examiners that Mumia was shot by an arriving police officer. That evidence was suppressed. A witness said that Faulkner’s gun was still in his holster when he was taken away. And, moreover, the gun that was allegedly Faulkner’s was likely a “throwaway”—it was inoperable and dirty.

The available ballistics and blood evidence at the scene is contrary to the prosecution’s frame-up version of what happened. The trajectories are wrong—the ballistics supports more than one shooter of Faulkner. The bullets and bullet jackets found do not fit with the prosecution theory. There is absolutely no evidence that Mumia’s gun was fired that night. And Mumia’s wounds do not fit at all with him being shot by Faulkner. The Stakeout officer who purportedly found Mumia’s gun in fact testified at trial that the bullets in Mumia’s gun were of a different make than those listed even on the cops’ own ballistics report.

So what else happened on the scene after Faulkner was shot? The cops tried to kill Mumia. He was shot in the chest. He was taken and rammed into a light post and then taken in a police van. Giordano beat Mumia in the police van. He later said that Mumia had confessed to shooting Faulkner and throwing his gun on the ground. The other cop who was in the van with Giordano said there was no such confession.

Giordano arranged the supposed identification of Mumia by the cab driver, Robert Chobert, who became a witness having been promised favors and protection by the police. Later, Chobert admitted that he never saw the shooting. And Giordano also was the first cop who reported that Mumia’s gun was found on the street. According to the police radio records, this was some 14 minutes after hordes of police had arrived on the scene, thus contradicting the official police story that Mumia’s gun was found within a minute. Giordano’s intention was to finish Mumia off by taking him to police headquarters for further questioning. Mumia’s only crime was that he survived the cops’ attempt to kill him, too.

To complete the picture: Despite Giordano being the senior officer at the scene, despite allegedly hearing Mumia confess and finding the murder weapon (and testifying to that in a preliminary court hearing), Giordano never testified at Mumia’s trial. In fact, he was put on desk duty in about May 1982 while the trial was about to take place, and he resigned from the police force the day after Mumia’s trial was over. In 1986, he copped a plea on federal charges based on his receiving tens of thousands of dollars in illegal payoffs during the period of 1979-80, and he didn’t spend a day in jail.

Mumia’s former lawyers, so-called radical leftist lawyer Len Weinglass and Dan Williams, found this evidence too hot and unbelievable. Williams said it could lead to actually arguing that the police knowingly framed up an innocent man! Now I don’t have to tell people here that not only is this not unbelievable, but it’s the reality of the cops and the courts. And furthermore, just for some empirical fact, as we litigated the 1995 post-conviction hearing in Philadelphia in the summer of 1995, daily we shared the headlines in the papers with the exposés of cop frame-ups of blacks on false drug charges, of which over 300 cases were overturned. Then of course there’s the L.A. Ramparts case, the Boston cop with mob ties, and more recently in the news, two New York homicide detectives who murdered while on Mafia payroll.

There is more, much more that the investigation that I and Jon Piper, with some help from comrades in the PDC, turned up, none of which has yet been presented in court. It’s filed in court, but the court has refused to hear it.

Mobilize to Free Mumia!

Now, what is the significance of the Beverly evidence and why has it been suppressed? There is a really simple answer: It exposes the fraud that the American legal system can provide justice. It demonstrates the unity of purpose of the cops, the prosecution and the courts to uphold the capitalist rulers’ interest. It makes it clear that the injustice to Mumia was not the action of one rogue cop, or prosecutor or judge, but the entire functioning of the so-called criminal justice system, the capitalist system of injustice. Democrats, including former mayor, former D.A., now-Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and former president Clinton, as well as Republicans are united in seeking Mumia’s execution, no less than they are united in increasing government repressive powers, in seeing leftist attorney Lynne Stewart locked away for life, and, most importantly, in continuing the capitalist system, which can only lead to increased poverty, racial oppression and war.

I want to make it clear that the courts will not free Mumia, nor grant him a new trial or new appeals on the grounds that are before them, without the weight of an international mobilization of the masses, centrally based on the labor movement. The power of international mobilization based on labor, from South Africa to Europe to the U.S., helped stay the hand of the executioner when Mumia was but ten days away from execution in August 1995. So now we need to mobilize again to exert the type of pressure that will impact this appeals court—a mass movement based on labor and its allies. That Mumia is innocent is the truth. That the capitalist state has spent decades framing him up is the truth. That the state will use its lying, corrupt, class- and race-biased forces to see Mumia dead is the truth. But we need to use those truths to bring out more power—social power—to fight for Mumia’s freedom now!