Protests Demand – Free Mumia!
Philadelphia, PA – 3,000 people rallied here Aug. 17, demanding freedom for framed death row revolutionary and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Speakers included Ossie Davis, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, poet Sonia Sanchez, Ramona Africa, comedian Dick Gregory, and Mayor Bernard Birsinger of Bobigny, France.
At the rally, police hovered overhead in two helicopters while U.S. federal marshals and the Philadelphia police kept watch on the ground. Despite the heavy police presence, no incidents or arrests occurred.
The daylong demonstration included a rally outside the courtroom that Mumia was to appear in. However, Mumia was denied access to his own hearing.
Mumia was barred from his own hearing by Philadelphia's corrections officials, who claimed that there was no room in their jails to transfer Mumia here for his court appearance.
This decision to not allow Mumia to be present at his own hearing went beyond the scope of their authority, yet Common Pleas Court Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe not only went along with this, she went further in stating that she would have to consult with local law enforcement as to whether to hold a hearing on new evidence in the future. The pretext she cited was the potential for demonstrations and disruptions to regular court business.
In response, one of Mumia's attorneys, Eliot Grossman, stated that what happens outside of court should not affect Mumia's legal rights.
Over objections from the prosecution, Mumia's attorneys read a statement from Mumia saying, “Today I am banned from a hearing in my name, in my defense, with no reason.”
As a freelance journalist, Mumia had exposed the murderous police brutality and political repression carried out by the Philadelphia police.
As a U.S. political prisoner, Mumia's case has received international attention and support from people such as Nelson Mandela and from the European Parliament.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was falsely convicted of killing a Philadelphia cop some 20 years ago.
The frame-up trial of Mumia included the testimony of three eyewitnesses (Veronica Jones, William Singletary, and Robert Chobert) who later said they were threatened and coerced by the police to get them to give false testimony against Mumia.
False evidence against Mumia also included a supposed confession to the police by Mumia the night he was arrested. But officer Gary Wakshul, who was with Mumia the entire time through his arrest and medical treatment, stated, “during this time the Negro male made no comment” in his original police report.
Yet Gary Wakshul testified at Mumia's trial that he heard Mumia confess that night. Gary Wakshul didn't remember this confession until almost three months after Mumia's arrest, when prosecutor McGill met with police asking for a confession. Officer Wakshul absurdly stated that he didn't think the confession was important at the time he wrote his original report.
This past May, Mumia's attorneys dropped a legal bombshell by submitting to the court a sworn affidavit that contains the confession of Arnold Beverly to the murder that Mumia is accused of committing.
This new evidence, that the court is refusing to hear, includes the confession of Arnold Beverly, who states, “I shot Faulkner at close range.” Faulkner was the cop Mumia is framed for killing. Beverly also states very clearly, “Faulkner was shot in the back and in the face before Jamal came on the scene. Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting.”
Eyewitness statements corroborate Arnold Beverly's confession. Beverly says he was wearing a green army jacket the night he shot Faulkner. William Singletary was there the night of the shooting. He says he saw a man shoot Faulkner and it was not Mumia. He also states that the actual killer was wearing a green army jacket.
Four eyewitnesses, including two cops, put a man wearing a green army jacket on the scene.
Five eyewitnesses described a man fleeing the scene the way Beverly describes he did. Mumia of course was not running anywhere; he was lying on the ground with a bullet in his chest.
According to Arnold Beverly, Mumia arrived on the scene after Beverly had already shot Faulkner. Beverly says that an arriving officer then shot Mumia. The prosecution claims that Faulkner shot Mumia in self-defense as Faulkner lay on the ground dying. Yet Beverly's story does fit with forensic evidence and the report of a cop at the scene that night. The cop stated that an arriving officer shot Mumia. The downward trajectory of the bullet into Mumia's chest also makes it physically impossible for Faulkner to have shot Mumia from the ground. A police medical examiner's report prepared 5 hours after the shooting states that Mumia “was shot subsequently by arriving police reinforcements.”
Arnold Beverly's sworn confession to a capital offense is in fact backed up by evidence on every level, while the prosecution's version of events is not. This, however, has not been cause enough for them to reconsider pushing for the execution of an innocent man. Instead, they are arguing that the new evidence was not brought forward in a timely manner.
Ramona Africa spoke on this point at the demonstration stating, “Judge Dembe has said she wants, in three weeks, some briefs to determine whether or not it's “too late” to prove his innocence, whether or not this information comes too late. We're saying it's never too late! What is she talking about, too late? We ain't interested in legalities. We're interested in what's right. Slavery was legal, but that wasn't right! Apartheid was legal but that wasn't right! The murder of Shaka Sankofa down in Texas, despite his innocence, was legal but that wasn't right! We don't care about legality. We care about justice and what is right.”
In July, Mumia's legal team filed a petition to suspend legal proceedings in federal court in order to pursue new legal challenges in the state court.
Mumia has not gotten any favorable rulings in federal court. There, Judge Yohn has already ruled that Beverly's confession is inadmissible, citing the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996. The act, among other things, sets a time limit of one year for death row inmates to present new evidence.
Yohn's chilling decision also cited the infamous 1993 Herrera decision that proof of innocence is no bar for execution.
In addition, according to Clinton's 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a decision for execution in Yohn's court will be Mumia's final legal appeal.
Faced with this situation, Mumia's legal team saw the need to attempt a hearing with the new evidence in state court. Yet the arguments and statements of both Judge Dembe and Judge Yohn, along with those of Judge Sabo before them, show that an American court of law is no place for evidence proving Mumia's innocence.
Judge Sabo presided over Mumia's original frame-up trial, but he didn't just do that. He came out of retirement to rule against Mumia at subsequent appeal hearings on whether Mumia got a fair trial. At these hearings Sabo ruled that Sabo had not violated Mumia's legal rights by denying him legal representation of his choice and denying him the right to attend his own trial.
Judge Sabo ruled against the admissibility of the testimony of a key eyewitness in the original trial, Veronica Jones, who stated that she was coerced through threats from the police into giving false testimony against Mumia in the original trial. Jones was a prostitute who says police threatened her with prison on warrants and of taking her children away if she didn't say what the police wanted. This testimony was important evidence of the fact that a frame-up had taken place. Yet Sabo did not allow a new trial based on this information or any of the other evidence brought forward.
Mumia has sat for the past 20 years on death row, removed from his family. Yet he now stands out as an uncompromising voice for the oppressed and exploited. Many have called him the voice of the voiceless. We need Mumia, we need him alive and we need him free. Yet all of the evidence shows that Mumia won't get justice in America's capitalist courts unless we turn up the heat.