Revolution #90, May 27, 2007

Federal Appeals Court Hears Case of Political Prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal

Philadelphia, May 17--A three-judge panel of the federal Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the case of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Over 250 people, overwhelmingly Mumia supporters, filled the courtroom, and hundreds more were outside. Also in the courtroom in support of Mumia were former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and a delegation from Europe.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on Pennsylvania’s death row since he was railroaded for murder in 1982. Shortly before dawn, on December 9, 1981, Mumia was driving his cab on a downtown Philadelphia street. He saw a cop viciously beating his brother, William Cook, with a metal flashlight. Mumia rushed to help his brother, and there was a confrontation. When the smoke cleared, Mumia had been shot in the chest—and was lying on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood. A cop lay on the street nearby, dying from bullet wounds. The police charged Mumia, who was well known to them as a revolutionary journalist and a former Black Panther, with the murder of the cop.

At his 1982 trial, Mumia was denied the right to serve as his own attorney and was barred from the courtroom for half his trial. The prosecution claimed that Mumia had confessed--a confession that cops only “remembered” months after the incident. Witnesses were coerced into giving false testimony. Key evidence was never seen by the jury. A court reporter overheard the trial judge saying that he was going to help the cops “fry the n****r.” Mumia was convicted and sentenced to death.

A surging mass movement prevented Mumia’s execution in 1995, but he was still denied justice and remained on death row. By 2000, Mumia's case had become an international issue. The European Parliament, Amnesty International, and others called for a new trial. In 2001 a federal district court judge upheld Mumia’s conviction but overturned his death sentence on technical grounds.

It was on this 2001 decision that the federal appeals court heard arguments on May 17. Mumia's defense is asking for a new trial, and the prosecutors are asking that the death sentence be reinstated. The principal legal issues were whether the prosecution in the 1982 trial had deliberately excluded Black jurors and whether the verdict form given to the jurors misled them on how to decide on a possible death sentence. The answers to these questions are clear. During that period, the Philadelphia DA's office produced a training tape for new assistant DAs on how to exclude Black jurors. A federal district judge has already found that the jury form was biased and illegal. And there is a long list of Philadelphia convictions which have been overturned by federal courts because of blatant racist bias.

Mumia has held firm through 25 years in solitary confinement and repeated threats of execution. His books, weekly columns, and radio commentaries inspire people across the globe. People everywhere need to continue to demand the freedom of this revolutionary political prisoner. Revolution will report on the Circuit Court of Appeals decision when it is announced.

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