Friday, May 11, 2007

Mumia's Chance for a New Trial: May 17

On May 17, oral arguments for death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal will be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, PA. In the following days, the court will decide whether Mumia will be granted a new trial, life in prison, or whether he shall be put to death.

The issues under consideration by the court will include whether Abu-Jamal was denied the right to due process of law and a fair trial under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments because of the prosecutor’s “appeal-after-appeal” argument. This argument essentially encouraged the jury to disregard the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt, and err on the side of guilt.

Also being considered on May 17 is whether the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to exclude African Americans from sitting on the jury violated Abu-Jamal’s rights to due process and equal protection under the law. In addition, the court will consider whether the jury instructions and verdict form that resulted in the death penalty deprived Abu-Jamal of rights guar­anteed by the Eight and Fourteenth Amend­ments to due process of law.

After 25 years on Pennsylvania's death row, the May 17 court date may represent Abu-Jamal's best chance yet during his long incarceration for the chance of a new trial -- especially due to newly discovered evidence, such as a crime scene photograph from Dec. 9, 1981 that purportedly documents police manipulation of the scene.

For years, human rights and legal groups such as Amnesty International and the National Lawyers Guild have called his original trial deeply flawed and have been calling for a new chance for the former Black Panther and radio journalist to prove his innocence in the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. As Amnesty International said in 2000,

Amnesty International today called for a new trial in the case of Mumia Abu Jamal on the basis that his original trial was deeply flawed.

"This is not about an issue affecting the life of just one man. This is about justice -- which affects us all. And justice, in this case, can only be served by a new trial," Amnesty International said.

After many years of monitoring the case and an exhaustive review of the original documents, Amnesty International has concluded that the proceedings under which Mumia Abu-Jamal was tried, convicted and sentenced to death fail to reach the minimum international standards for fair trials.
Their exhaustively researched report, A Life In The Balance -- The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, was made available online. It begins by noting the international significance of Mumia's case:

His case has generated more controversy and received more attention, both national and international, than that of any other inmate currently under sentence of death in the United States of America (USA).
Having lived in Europe for a couple of years, I can vouch for the passionate commitment many Europeans have for his case. While travelling through Italy, I remember once seeing a huge mural of Mumia in Milan, and in Copenhagen, Denmark, I once joined a march of thousands of Danes to the US embassy demanding a new trial for Mumia.

Indeed, as the New York-based International Action Center notes,

Mumia Abu-Jamal is recognized internationally as a political prisoner whose Constitutional rights have been consistently violated in the state's mad dash to railroad him to execution. Mumia has been declared an honorary citizen of Paris, Palermo, the Central District of Copenhagen. Mumia was awarded the coveted Solhvervfonden Foundation Award in Copenhagen, Denmark for his services to humanity as a voice of conscience.
While Amnesty International is careful not to identify him as a political prisoner, choosing instead to focus on the unfairness of his original trial, many around the world have no such qualms. While marching in Copenhagen, I remember asking one young Dane how much he knew about Mumia's case. He replied that he just knew that Mumia was an American political prisoner that the U.S. government was trying to execute in order to silence his voice.

Many of these suspicions are fueled by the criticism that Mumia Abu-Jamal levels against the U.S. criminal justice system, the failures of American capitalism, and the injustices of U.S. foreign policy -- criticisms that are so scathing that they seem to go beyond the limits of acceptable political discourse in America. His imprisonment has not stopped him from continuing to speak out, with several books published over the years, and countless radio commentaries broadcast on Pacifica Radio and other outlets.

Many of the commentaries are now available on YouTube, and listening to him slam U.S. policy, one might be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that his voice is one that the U.S. government would simply love to silence:

Whether one subscribes to the view that Mumia is a victim of a system that has targetted him due to his political views, it has become increasingly difficult to justify his continued denial of a new trial. So much evidence has emerged since 1981 that points to his innocence, it is hard to imagine what more it might take for the Appeals Court to allow it to finally be heard. One man, Arnold Beverly, has even personally admitted to the murder of Daniel Faulkner, saying Mumia had nothing to do with it.

Furthermore, it has become clear that exonerating evidence was suppressed in his original trial, that key witnesses were intimidated from testifying, that other witnesses were intimidated into fingering Mumia as the shooter, and that his presiding judge, Albert Sabo, was on a personal crusade to send Mumia to death. With a fair hearing on May 17, there's a real possibility that Mumia may be given a new chance to prove his innocence in a court of law.

But as Amnesty notes in A Life in the Balance, "The politicization of Mumia Abu-Jamal's case may not only have prejudiced his right to a fair trial, but may now be undermining his right to fair and impartial treatment in the appeal courts." With this politicization in mind, many worry that Mumia will once again be denied a new trial and sent back to prison, where he has now spent more than half of his life.

In an attempt to ensure that Mumia is finally granted the fair trial that he has for so long been denied, several groups are urging concerned citizens to descend on the courthouse in Philadelphia on May 17. The Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition is calling on people converge at 8:30 am at the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia on 6th and Market Streets to demand justice for Mumia.

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