Pennsylvania Court Denies New PCRA Hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolutionary Worker #1129, December 2, 2001, posted at

On November 21, a Pennsylvania court handed down another outrageous and unjust ruling in the 20-year railroad of revolutionary political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Judge Pamela Dembe ruled that she will not reopen the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) hearings. Earlier this year, Mumia and his lawyers had filed a brief in the state courts requesting new PCRA hearings on the basis of new evidence brought forward by the defense team. Among the new evidence are three important statements: by Mumia himself, describing in his own words--for the first time--what happened on the night of December 9, 1981, when he was shot and arrested for the murder of Philadelphia cop Daniel Faulkner; by Mumia's brother William (Billy) Cook, giving his description of what happened that night; and by Arnold Beverly, a man who has stated that he, not Mumia, shot Faulkner.

This new evidence has been brought forward since the first PCRA hearings in 1995-97 in the Pennsylvania courts. Those PCRA proceedings were presided over by the notorious "hanging judge" William Sabo, who was also the presiding judge in Mumia's original trial that resulted in the death sentence. For the 1995-97 PCRA, Mumia's defense had gathered evidence not available during the original trial, including new witnesses for Mumia; recanting of testimony by a key witness; testimony about coercion of witnesses, perjury, and obstruction by the police; evidence of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. Sabo, and later the state supreme court, rejected or simply refused to hear the evidence.

In Judge Dembe's court, the District Attorney opposed Mumia's request for a new round of PCRA hearings on the grounds that the 60-day deadline for presenting new evidence had passed. And the judge agreed with this argument. The deadline for new evidence is part of how this system's courts stacks the decks against the people. In some states, the deadline is even shorter. Even if people unjustly convicted are able to dig up new evidence, it is very difficult for prisoners--especially for those who are indigent--to put together an appeal within the deadline. And sometimes the importance of new information to a case might not be apparent till later. At the same time, the state has no statute of limitation, or deadline, in bringing murder charges against a defendant.

Judge Dembe's decision is yet another step in the government's effort to railroad Mumia into the death chamber. The courts are supposedly places of justice. When a person's life is on the line, don't the courts have a moral obligation to hear out any and all evidence that might have a bearing on the case? Isn't it unconscionable and deeply unjust for the courts--using an arbitrary time deadline as justification--to refuse to even consider such evidence?

On August 17, when Mumia's lawyers appeared in Judge Dembe's court, a militant crowd of 1,500 people jammed the sidewalks outside the Philadelphia courthouse to demand that the evidence be heard. Dembe had originally signed an order to bring Mumia from death row to Philadelphia for the state court hearing. But when word got out, and the Mumia movement began to mobilize, higher authorities moved in and put a stop to Mumia's appearance in the courtroom.

In late August, another important revelation about the railroad of Mumia came out when his attorneys presented an affidavit by Terri Maurer-Carter, a former court stenographer in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. In her affidavit, Maurer-Carter states that in 1982, she overheard a conversation between Judge Albert Sabo and another person. According to Maurer-Carter, "Judge Sabo was discussing the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. During the course of that conversation, I heard Judge Sabo say, 'Yeah, and I am going to help them fry the nigger.'"

After Judge Dembe's November 21 ruling, the next step in the state courts is an appeal of that ruling in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In the meantime, Mumia's federal habeas corpus appeal is before Federal District Court Judge William H. Yohn. Mumia's lawyers had filed a motion in Yohn's court to suspend the federal appeal proceedings while they attempt to reopen the PCRA hearings in the state courts. On October 27, Yohn rejected the motion for a delay.

In an earlier ruling, on July 19, Yohn had refused to take a deposition of the Beverly testimony. In making this ruling, Yohn deliberately launched into a detailed citation of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act--a federal law aimed at directly cutting off the ability of people wrongfully convicted in the state courts to seek the overturn of their convictions and sentences in the federal courts. Yohn also specifically advised the Pennsylvania courts to reject the Beverly testimony.

The November 21 ruling by Judge Dembe and other actions by the courts show once again the deadly intentions of the power structure to take the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The unjust court rulings bring home in sharp terms what is actually required to stop the execution and free Mumia: a broad and determined movement that presents the government with a political situation where they stand to lose far more in carrying out their vicious execution plans than they could hope to gain. We need a situation where millions believe that Mumia's conviction and death sentence were deeply unjust and that his execution must not happen.

Speaking at the August 17 protest for Mumia in Philadelphia, RCP national spokesperson Carl Dix declared: "We cannot let them get away with murdering a revolutionary. You got a brother like Mumia who has dedicated his life to the people. He's fought against injustice. This system shows that it's no damn good by saying that a man who fights against injustice can be put on death row for taking that kind of stand. As a revolutionary communist, I have to stand with a brother like that. I have to have his back, and I've got to be part of building the kind of movement that can force them to stop his execution and let him out of jail. 'Cause we need him out here on the streets with us building a movement against all this bullshit that this system is bringing down--building a revolutionary movement, which is the kind of movement we need to get rid of all of this shit once and for all."

Stop the Execution!

Overturn the Conviction!

Free Mumia!

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