Stay of Execution Signed

Mumia Abu-Jamal: The Battle for the Truth

Revolutionary Worker #1029, November 7, 1999

On Tuesday, October 26, the federal judge in Mumia's case finally issued a stay of execution. This was 13 days after Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge had signed a death warrant for Mumia, setting a December 2 execution date. (This December 2 also marks 140 years since John Brown, a white abolitionist, was executed by the government for attempting to start an armed uprising of slaves.) Mumia was placed in what is called Phase 2 "death watch"--under conditions that Amnesty International describes as "torture." After the stay was announced, Mumia was released immediately from Phase 2.

With the stay, Mumia no longer faces the December 2 execution date. The stay is in effect until the federal judge, William Yohn, rules on Mumia's habeas corpus petition. According to Mumia's legal team, Mumia's first appearance in the federal district court could be in early March.

We are now into a crucial and urgent stage in the fight to save Mumia's life--the process of federal appeal in the federal courts, which began on October 15 when Mumia's legal team filed his writ of habeas corpus. In the period ahead, the demand for a hearing where the evidence can be heard and for the overturning of Mumia's unjust conviction must become increasingly powerful and widespread. This case needs to become such a dividing line throughout society that the government and the courts are forced to back off from proceeding with the execution of Mumia.

The movement for Mumia has called for regional demonstrations on Saturday, December 11. And they are also issuing a call to saturate the walls all over the U.S. with pictures of Mumia on posters or calls for events.

The Evidence Must Be Heard

The habeas corpus document from Mumia and his legal team is over 160 pages long. It contains over 600 paragraphs that describe allegations of outrageous wrongdoing by the Pennsylvania courts in convicting Mumia and sentencing him to death. The document particularizes 29 separate violations of federal constitutional law. Any one of these violations warrant the overturning of Mumia's conviction. As Mumia's lead attorney Leonard Weinglass said, "This is a mammoth record which could not conceivably justify an execution of anyone, at this or at any other time." (The habeas corpus petition is available online at the Refuse & Resist! website:

The habeas petition asks the federal district court to hold a hearing where Mumia's lawyers can present evidence and witness testimony that were suppressed by the Pennsylvania courts. This is very important because Mumia's original trial and appeals in the Pennsylvania courts were full of constitutional violations, as the habeas petition documents in much detail. All these hearings were presided over by Judge Sabo, known as the "hanging judge" because he sentenced so many people to death.

As Mumia himself wrote in Source magazine earlier this year: "Imagine a case in which a person isn't allowed to represent himself, one in which witnesses are threatened or even arrested on the stand. Imagine a case in which a man charged with killing a cop is tried by a judge who is a lifetime member of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Imagine that this case's appeal is heard and denied by a court where five out of the seven judges have either received campaign contributions or campaign endorsements from the FOP. Imagine a case in which a `confession' was manufactured. I don't have to imagine such a case. It's mine."

Because of this history of a political railroad in the Pennsylvania courts, a hearing at the federal district level would be the first real opportunity for Mumia to present his evidence and witnesses in court. At the same time, a hearing in front of the federal district judge would be Mumia's last chance to bring up such evidence and witnesses in court. The 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act, signed into law by President Clinton, severely restricts the review of death penalty cases by the federal courts. And after the federal district court, higher courts will only review transcripts of Mumia's case from the state courts--they will not hear new evidence and witnesses.

The People Must Save Mumia's Life

It is a profound injustice that Mumia is on death row. The system has already stolen 17 years of his life. Mumia has dedicated his life to the people--especially those in the ghettos, barrios and prisons. In the face of brutality, isolation, slander and censorship, he has remained unbroken, his revolutionary consciousness and commitment strong. And this is more than the story of just one man. The frame-up of Mumia concentrates the way Black people are routinely mistreated by the police, the courts, the prisons and the media. The railroad of Mumia reveals how the U.S. government deals with political opponents--especially revolutionaries whose voices connect with the people at the bottom of society. This case is vivid proof of why this government and its legal system should not have the power to execute people.

Powerful forces in the government have made clear their murderous plans against Mumia. The signing of the death warrant by Ridge was a message that they intend to push ahead with their attempt to silence the voice of this Black revolutionary.

It is on the people to step up the struggle to a new level and save the life of Mumia. What does it mean to do this? As Carl Dix, RCP national spokesperson, said: "Mumia's name and story [must become] a household word to millions. Throughout society, the fight to stop the execution of Mumia has to become so powerful that the government feels they have to overturn the Pennsylvania court decision, or else face the anger and disillusionment of millions against their system. We need to turn our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces into centers of struggle so that millions will come to know Mumia's story and the stakes in fighting for his life, and take an active stand in this battle for justice."


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