Revolution #138, August 3, 2008

New Developments in
Ongoing Railroad of
Mumia Abu-Jamal

At every point in the tortuous case of framed former Black Panther and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, he has been denied the most basic legal rights supposedly afforded to all those brought before the courts. This is one reason why his case so highlights the nature of the oppression of Black people and the fundamental nature of the “justice” system under the dictatorship of the capitalist class.

On July 22, ten judges of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed without comment the request by Mumia Abu-Jamal for a rehearing of his federal appeal before a panel of all the judges of the circuit. Mumia’s appeal had been rejected in May this year in a 2 to 1 vote by a three-judge panel reviewing the case.

This decision continues the 27-year railroad of a Black revolutionary writer and activist, framed by the infamous racist court system of Philadelphia. Mumia Abu-Jamal has been held in isolation on Pennsylvania’s death row since his 1982 trial that was a travesty of justice.

This has occurred in spite of the mountain of new evidence that has been developed since Mumia’s original trial in 1983, where Mumia was denied the right to represent himself and was barred from the courtroom during most of his own trial for protesting this injustice.

For example, recently discovered photographs by a free lance photographer, who stumbled upon the scene just after the shooting of a police officer for which Mumia was convicted, show that police rearranged the evidence at the scene and there are no marks on the sidewalk where Mumia allegedly repeatedly fired down at the fallen officer.

But, as the U.S. Supreme Court has pointed out, the federal courts are not in the business of correcting bogus prosecutions and convictions; they content themselves with protecting federally guaranteed procedural rights. In fact, the Supreme Court has actually stated that it is legal for a state to execute an innocent person as long as correct procedures were followed!

Yet for all their interest “protecting procedural rights,” the recent 3rd Circuit Court decision had to ignore its own precedents where it has repeatedly overturned convictions for exactly the same reasons raised in Mumia’s case.

In a spirited dissent to the earlier May ruling, Judge Thomas L. Ambro reviewed similar cases in which the 3rd Circuit had granted a new trial for reasons of racist jury selection and then remarked that “I see no reason why we should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedents.”

No matter how much new evidence is brought to light, Mumia will not get another chance to present it in federal court unless his current appeal succeeds. Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, each criminal defendant can apply one time and one time only to the federal courts. Mumia’s attorney announced he will now appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court accepts very few such cases.

The 3rd Circuit appeals court did uphold a federal district court ruling which threw out Mumia’s death sentence because of misleading instructions to the jury. But in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court fails to grant Mumia a new trial, the state of Pennsylvania is free to convene a new jury to do the sentencing phase of his original trial all over again. That is, the state will get yet another shot at sentencing Mumia to death.  

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