9 September 2016
New Legal Papers Filed
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!
(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)
In a significant development in the decades-long battle for his freedom, on August 7 attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal filed a new petition under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). Mumia’s application seeks to overturn the denial of his three prior PCRA claims by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If successful, he would be granted a new hearing before that court to argue for reversal of his 1982 frame-up conviction for the killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
America’s foremost class-war prisoner, Mumia has been in the crosshairs of the capitalist state since his days as a teenage Black Panther Party spokesman in the 1960s. That enmity toward him grew in the 1970s when, as an award-winning journalist known as the “voice of the voiceless,” Mumia exposed the racist Philly police vendetta against MOVE, the largely black back-to-nature group he came to support. The crusade against Mumia exemplifies the determination of the capitalist state to silence through terror those fighting the black oppression that is part of the bedrock of American capitalism.
In December 2011, the state abandoned its relentless efforts to carry out Mumia’s legal lynching, only to consign him to the “slow death” of life imprisonment without parole. Today, as Mumia faces a life-threatening hepatitis C infection, the prison authorities are intent on expediting the completion of that sentence by refusing to give him adequate medical care. Even after 34 years in prison, and now fighting his debilitating illness, Mumia continues to be a prolific voice against brutal racist police violence and U.S. imperialism.
Mumia’s fight to exonerate himself was given a breath of life by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Williams v. Pennsylvania. In that case the court declared it to be a violation of due process for an appellate court judge to fail to recuse himself from deciding an appeal from a trial in which he had been significantly involved in “a critical decision” during the case. The offending jurist in the case of Terrance Williams, Ronald Castille, was also a senior Assistant District Attorney during Mumia’s 1982 trial and the D.A. throughout his direct appeals in the Pennsylvania courts. Castille’s elevation to the state’s Supreme Court gave him the license of black robes to sanctify, through Mumia’s PCRA applications during which he refused to recuse himself, the grotesque violations of Mumia’s rights that he perpetrated as prosecutor.
Mumia’s trial and conviction were a textbook frame-up: racist jury-rigging; concealment of evidence; phony ballistics and other manufactured “evidence;” a “confession” concocted by cops and prosecutors; and massive police intimidation of witnesses. Mumia’s trial was overseen by “hanging judge” Albert Sabo, who was overheard saying he would help the prosecution “fry the n----r.” Mumia was denied the right to represent himself and was repeatedly ejected from the courtroom.
Castille’s pretext for rejecting Mumia’s recusal motions was the threadbare claim that irrespective of his prominence in the D.A.’s office at trial, and his signing off on all the legal documents countering Mumia’s appeals as D.A., he was merely an accidental tourist with no particular familiarity with the details of Mumia’s case. This is ludicrous. Convicting Mumia, procuring the death penalty and upholding it on appeal were top priorities of the D.A.’s office for three decades, as it worked hand in hand with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). A more honest appreciation of Castille’s role was offered in 2007 by Michael Smerconish, a Philadelphia journalist who has dedicated himself to seeing Mumia executed for Faulkner’s killing: “Danny Faulkner has had a good friend in the D.A.’s office. As a matter of fact he’s had three: Ed Rendell, Ron Castille and Lynne Abraham.” Mumia’s petition is seeking discovery to reveal the level of Castille’s responsibility during the trial, including his “participation in meetings amongst senior members of the office during which the Abu-Jamal case was discussed.”
Mumia’s petition notes that as D.A., “Castille was undoubtedly familiar with the sentiments of the FOP, and notably, he received the FOP’s Lodge #5 Man of the Year award in 1986.” In 1992, he unsuccessfully sought appointment as Philadelphia’s police commissioner and was elected the following year to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Terry Williams may be the beneficiary of a dollop of “justice” the high court occasionally metes out to throw a thin veil over the racist injustice that afflicts millions of black lives. But another set of rules applies to Mumia. Court after court has refused to consider the mountain of evidence of his innocence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner. The proof of Mumia’s innocence exposes his frame-up as not just some aberration of a rogue cop or a bad judge, but the result of the workings of a whole “justice” system whose real purpose is the repression of workers, minorities and the poor on behalf of the capitalist rulers.
The latest judicial slap in Mumia’s face is the denial of his struggle to obtain crucial hepatitis C medication. On August 31, eight months after oral argument in Mumia’s lawsuit to obtain the medication, federal judge Robert Mariani rejected his claim on the pretext that the lawsuit wrongly named as defendants the prison warden and the prison system’s medical chief. According to Mariani, the suit should have been directed against the members of the state’s hepatitis committee—a secretive body which Mumia’s attorneys had no way of knowing even existed at the time the suit was initiated!
Though Mumia’s condition has waxed and waned after his hospitalizations last year (see “Court Blocks Medical Treatment—Free Him Now!” WV No. 1075, 2 October 2015), there is no doubt that this setback will greatly jeopardize his life. Coating this bitter pill, Mariani confirmed that Pennsylvania’s hepatitis C protocol for inmates—in which treatment is offered for only a few dozen of the more than 6,000 infected—fails to meet constitutional standards. Mariani’s decision affirmed that Pennsylvania’s “treatment protocol…prolongs the suffering of those who have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C” allowing “the progression of the disease to accelerate so that it presents a greater threat” of liver disease, cancer and death.
Just days before his suit was denied, it was reported that Mumia is again experiencing itching all over his body—a symptom of the disease. In lieu of getting drugs for hepatitis C, Mumia’s skin condition is treated with a variety of topical medications, often with harmful side effects. He is also suffering from diarrhea—believed to be linked to contamination of the prison’s water supply.
The Partisan Defense Committee, a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, has long fought for Mumia’s freedom. We urge union militants, fighters for black freedom and student activists to demand freedom now for Mumia Abu-Jamal. We urge our readers to donate to his legal defense. Contributions can be sent to the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, c/o the National Lawyers Guild Foundation, 132 Nassau St., Room 922, New York, NY 10038, earmarked “Mumia legal expenses.”
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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1095, 9 September 2016)
Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.