Victory in Abdul Haqq Case

Revolutionary Worker #956, May 3, 1998

On April 23, in a Cleveland courtroom, the jury came back after two days of deliberation in the case of Abdul Haqq. When the words "not guilty" were read Haqq's supporters, family and lawyers all cheered and hugged each other. A huge banner was unfurled, with the words "Free Abdul Haqq." The joy on everyone's faces was deep, reflecting how much this victory represents to the people. The system suffered a defeat in its attempt to railroad a Black revolutionary.

Abdul Haqq is a leading member of the December 12th Movement. Last year, he was falsely charged with the 1984 murder of bar owner William Turner in Cleveland. Haqq was arrested in New York City, where he had been deeply involved in political activity, especially against police brutality, after serving eight years in prison for a previous political frameup. Haqq was extradited from New York City to Cleveland to stand trial for the 1984 murder, and he faced a possible sentence of 15 years to life if convicted.

The prosecutors in Cleveland said that Haqq was being charged so long after the fact because a police informer had suddenly come forward with a story pointing to Haqq. This snitch claimed that in 1984 he had heard Haqq tell an Imam that he committed the murder. This whole case was an obvious frameup from the start--and it had all the markings of a COINTELPRO political police operation.

The trial began on April 13. A press advisory from the December 12th Movement described some of what went on in the courtroom: "Before a courtroom filled with Haqq supporters, New York attorney Roger Wareham who, along with well-known Cleveland attorney Terry Gilbert, represents Haqq, made the opening statement. In it, he eloquently pointed out the weaknesses in the prosecution's case. He explained that the evidence would show that it was built on the self-serving lies of a convicted murderer and the mistaken identification of people who were in the bar that night and identified Haqq some 14 years later from a photo taken in 1975. The jury (composed of five Blacks and seven whites) listened intently as Wareham explained that the prosecution was engaged in a frantic race to put together a prosecution after they had indicted and arrested Haqq. As in Alice in Wonderland, `First the conviction, then the trial.'

"Attorney Terry Gilbert's cross examination destroyed the testimony and credibility of Yaqub Nur, who testified that he had overheard Haqq confessing to the crime in 1984. When asked why he had waited so long to come forward, Nur, who is serving 15 years to life for the vicious stabbing of a man, said with a straight face that he had recently read scholarly Islamic writings which convinced him that it was the right thing to do. It was only under Gilbert's probing cross examination that he finally admitted that he expected it would help his chances before the parole board this coming December."

The prosecution also had two eyewitnesses to the killing of Turner, but they gave contradictory testimony. For example, Letha Watley said that she thought the incident took 20 minutes, while Charles Ervin said it only took two minutes.

The December 12th press advisory pointed to other aspects of Ervin's testimony: "Ervin, who, despite his denials, had clearly been prepared by the prosecution, significantly changed his testimony from that given just three days before. When asked how long it had taken him to pick out Haqq's photo from the photo array, he said two minutes. At a pretrial hearing on Tuesday, he testified that it had taken him 20 minutes and that he was not `100 percent sure' that Haqq was the person in the bar. He weakly tried to explain away the difference by saying that he was `tired' when he testified on Tuesday. Ervin inadvertently added a bombshell when he admitted under cross examination that the victim had gone for his own weapon before the person who shot him had even pulled his. No one on the defense team had known this before. This admission put another dagger in the heart of the prosecution's case which proclaimed in its opening that it was going to prove that Turner had been executed."

Before the verdict came in, defense attorney Roger Wareham told the RW, "The main points we were making in the closing was that they had not made their case, that their case was based upon an informant who had an interest, who had done this conveniently just a few months before he was coming up for parole after his last attempted post-conviction relief had been denied, and who based his information almost entirely on what was in the news media...That was the linchpin of their case, along with two eyewitnesses whose testimony differed in significant areas and was contradictory. There were no fingerprints, no weapons, nothing that tied Haqq to the site. The prosecution tried to make a big deal out of the fact that Haqq looked different than in the 1975 photo and that he had disguised himself for trial--which was absurd. They said he had purposely gained weight, put on glasses and darkened his skin. Now he had one witness that said Haqq looks darker now, another says he looks lighter now. One said he looks taller, another that he looks shorter. There were a lot of contradictory things. They were trying to cover up a botched investigation from jump street. They didn't even do a sketch at the crime scene where the body had fallen or where the weapon was recovered. The only weapon recovered was Turner's."

The authorities thought they could railroad Abdul Haqq back to jail. But their attempted railroad was broadly exposed in Cleveland through leaflettings, articles in the media, cultural events and fundraising. Haqq himself was very much out in the streets, talking to the people and indicting the system. When the U.S. looked like they were going to bomb Iraq again, Haqq was at rallies and among the people, exposing the U.S. imperialists. When the police brutalized a Latino family, Haqq went with people from the local October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality to visit the family.

Cheryl Lessin, a local spokesperson for the RCP and a member of the Abdul Haqq Defense Committee, said after the verdict: "This is a victory for the people. It is clear to the people that they were prosecuting him for one reason and one reason alone: that he is a revolutionary and a fighter for the people who--even after being in prison on another trumped-up charge--jumped into the struggle against police murder and brutality in New York. That kind of determination and faith in the people is something the system finds intolerable--and something we cherish."

A few hours after the verdict came down, Abdul Haqq told the RW: "One thing they hoped to achieve with this prosecution is to try to put down our ability to stand up. This victory proves that we can stand up and we can win. The only way that they can come at us and shut us down is if just a few of us stand up. When people start standing up all over the place, there's nothing they can do. The enemy's strategic objective is to shut us down and destroy our movement...It's impossible to get justice from a system that profits from injustice. If more and more people become sharply conscious of this, then we'll get rid of all idiotic ideas about trusting the system. And that will help us make revolution."

Haqq was one of the people on the list of political prisoners put together by Jericho '98. And supporters of Haqq took part in the Jericho '98 march in Washington, D.C. in March. Haqq said, "The energy from Jericho '98 went to my defense committee and trial. This victory shows that the wall of Jericho can come down. We can build on this victory."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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