Amnesty International Demands New Trial for Mumia

Revolutionary Worker #1044, February 27, 2000

"After many years of monitoring Mumia Abu-Jamal's case and a thorough study of original documents, including the entire trial transcript, the organization has concluded that the proceedings used to convict and sentence Mumia Abu-Jamal to death were in violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty. Amnesty International therefore believes that the interests of justice would best be served by the granting of a new trial to Mumia Abu-Jamal."

From Amnesty International Report--
"A Life in the Balance:
The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal"


On February 17, Amnesty International held a press conference at its national office in New York City to announce the release of its new report A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Based on extensive reviews of the trial transcripts, the report documents Mumia's original trial as one riddled with unfairness and injustice, including inadequate legal representation, a judge biased in favor of the prosecution, exclusion of African-Americans from the jury, eyewitnesses who changed their story in favor of the prosecution after pressure from police, a "confession" that two police officers and a security guard did not "remember" until two months later, contradictory ballistics evidence, the withholding of evidence favorable to the defense, and the use of Mumia's political beliefs to influence the jury to sentence him to death.

The report characterizes the atmosphere in Philadelphia leading up to Mumia's trial as, "a city of racial tensions, police brutality and police corruption." And it points out the basis for bias against Mumia among members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court--which has denied his appeals. This includes the fact that some justices' election campaigns were supported by law enforcement.

AI's press release states that: "Amnesty International is focusing on Abu-Jamal because his case represents the fundamental problems that plague the administration of the death penalty in the U.S., which has about 3,600 men and women on death row. The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal--like countless others on death row--was tragically marked by inadequate legal representation, judicial bias, and the politicization of the judicial process. The application of the death penalty in the United States cannot guarantee freedom from fatal error. While Amnesty International believes that the only ultimate solution is the abolition of the death penalty, we demand fair trials immediately...

"This is not about an issue affecting the life of just one man. This is about justice--which affects us all. And justice, in this case, can only be served by a new trial.... Amnesty International has chosen this moment to publish the results of their painstaking review of the case because Abu-Jamal's life and the fairness of the judicial system are now, more than ever, in the balance."

Mumia's life is in the balance because his case is in its final round of federal appeals. As Clark Kissinger recently pointed out in RW #1040: "Mumia has filed a motion for a writ of habeas corpus. This means that he has asked the federal courts to overrule the decisions of the state court for violations of the U.S. Constitution. The federal district court has agreed to hear arguments on the habeas petition. Oral arguments may begin as early as April. If District Court Judge Yohn turns down Mumia's petition, then it is likely that Pennsylvania Governor Ridge will sign another death warrant. Mumia's attorneys would immediately file appeals at the Circuit Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court, but--contrary to popular misunderstanding--neither of these courts is required by law to hear such appeals or to stay the death warrant."

Amnesty International notes that "Without a new trial, the federal courts will be Abu-Jamal's final opportunity to have many of the troubling issues in his case addressed. However, the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act severely limits the federal courts' ability to examine violations of the defendant's rights in state-level proceedings. The right to a fair trial is a basic human right. When this right is violated, innocent people can be convicted, imprisoned and executed--and the judicial system itself loses credibility. That is why we are calling for a new trial."

There were three speakers at the press conference: Piers Banister, the author of A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal; William Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA; and Ron Hampton, Executive Director of the National Black Police Association.

William Schulz pointed out that there have been many people wrongfully sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. He noted that because innocent people are clearly being sentenced to death, organizations such as the Philadelphia Bar Association and the American Bar Association, as well as Illinois Republican Governor George Ryan and recently the Philadelphia City Council have called for a moratorium on executions. Then Schulz briefly summarized the findings of the report.

Piers Banister spoke about Amnesty International's opposition to the death penalty: "The United States is undoubtedly out of step in its use of capital punishment with the rest of the world. It is the only Westernized democracy that executes its citizens. Over 105 countries in the world have now abolished or ceased to use the death penalty and only approximately 38 to 40 hold executions each year. So the USA really does stand alone away from trends. We've seen approximately two to three countries per year abolish the death penalty in the last five or six years whereas, of course, we've seen the United States increase the amounts of capital crimes that exist in its statute books."

Ron Hampton said his organization joins Amnesty International in calling for a new trial for Mumia: "We strongly believe Mr. Abu-Jamal is a victim of his life-long political activities regarding the city of Philadelphia and its police department as well as his membership in the national Black Panther Party.... We now know about cases in Los Angeles, California. As a result of the corrupt police department in Los Angeles there are approximately 3,000 cases that are going to probably be affected. People are going to be permitted to get out of jail. In the city of Philadelphia in the 39th precinct we had individuals that were being and are being released from prison, new cases every day as a result of police behavior. In Washington, D.C., there's been a review of police cases involving corruption, lying, cheating, planting evidence on innocent people. There's a national pattern...."

William Schulz ended his statement at the press conference by speaking about the "politicization of the judicial process" in Mumia's case which the Amnesty International report documents: "The FBI's counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) and the Philadelphia Police Department had monitored Abu-Jamal's political activity since 1969. Extensive prejudicial media coverage in Philadelphia included references to Abu-Jamal's former membership in the Black Panther Party. The prosecution improperly used political statements attributed to Abu-Jamal as a teenager in its successful effort to obtain a death sentence against him.

"Amnesty International's report clearly demonstrates that Abu-Jamal's trial violated international fair trial standards. Though we are not in a position to say whether he is guilty or innocent--that judgment must be made in a court of law--we can say that it is past time that Abu-Jamal be given a new--and fair--trial. Justice demands no less."

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