The defendant was denied the right to represent himself at his murder trial, and was barred from the courtroom when he protested this denial. Also, four witnesses who saw another man flee the death scene were forbidden from testifying at the proceeding. And, the .38 caliber pistol the prosecution said was used to kill the police officer was never tested to see if it had been fired. And, the defendant was never tested to see if he had pulled a trigger. And, the coroner’s report originally concluded that a .44 caliber bullet killed policeman Daniel Faulkner. And, forensic examinations of the bullet wounds the defendant and the slain policeman each received contradicted the prosecution’s account.
Despite all this, Jamal Abu-Jamal was sentenced to die for premeditated murder in Philadelphia 17 years ago after trying to defend his brother (who was being beaten by the officer with a flashlight).
Jamal, a respected black journalist, had never previously been convicted of a crime.
Now the Supreme Court has refused to hear Jamal’s petition for a writ of certiorari. This is a request for the Court to look at his case before it goes through the normal federal appeals process. The Court occasionally grants this to cases that involve important legal questions. However, the Justices decided that whether Jamal should not have been denied both the right to represent himself and to be present throughout his trial were insufficient grounds for them to take an early interest in the case.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge signed a death warrant ordering Jamal’s execution on December 12. Meanwhile, Abu-Jamal’s lead attorney, Leonard Weinglass, filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. This will be the last opportunity for them to request that evidence suppressed from the original trial be presented in Abu-Jamal’s defense. On October 26, the federal court hearing Jamal’s last federal appeal ordered a stay of Ridge’s death warrant pending deliberations on the writ.
This writer believes that it is a fascist argument that a prisoner should be executed when the State has not proven an accused person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Abu-Jamal’s trial was so riddled with errors that even people who believe the prosecution’s claim that he planned to--and did--kill Daniel Faulkner in cold blood could feel free to oppose his execution.
Abu-Jamal’s case is an excellent example of how the media behaves in a business-controlled society. Predictably, the Washington Post buried mention of the Supreme Court’s denial of the writ of certiorari, devoting just three sentences to the subject. It even suggested that Jamal was finished his last appeal (10/5/99). The Sun did much the same thing. And on October 27, announcement of the federal circuit court’s stay of execution was reported in a small story far inside the news section.
All along the media have been preventing the public from understanding any viewpoints in the case but the prosecution’s. In fact, it appears the media have taken a very proactive step in ensuring the execution takes place.
Vanity Fair (8/99) recently published commentary that quoted Philip Bloch as claiming that Abu-Jamal confessed to him from prison. This story received national attention. However, when Abu-Jamal produced a letter written by Bloch after the supposed confession that refuted Bloch’s claim, this information has so far been suppressed by the mainstream media.
Similarly, ABC’s “20/20” (12/9/98) had Sam Donaldson discussing Jamal’s case entirely from the perspective of the prosecution. If anyone still doubted where Donaldson stands, he also said, “The death sentence has to be carried out.” Likewise, NPR earned the nickname “National Police Radio” by censoring Abu-Jamal’s scheduled radio commentaries (which rarely reflect on his own case) for fear of offending the Philadelphia police. (For readers who wish to read more about these matters consult http://www.fair.org/issues-news/Jamal.html on the Internet.)
The local media have been similarly disciplined in suppressing the key points of Jamal’s case. Sun writer E.L. Doctorow (The Sun, 7/95) briefly listed some of the points without elaborating on their merit. A month later, Lynne Abraham, who prosecuted the case against Jamal, was given generous space for an Op-Ed piece (The Sun, 8/20/95)--but no rebuttal was published in that page of opinion. Later, the Sun editorialized (The Sun, 9/19/95) that Abu-Jamal “could be guilty of murder” and he “seems far from innocent” prior to listing some of Jamal’s relevant points without further discussion. The bullying columnist Gregory Kane has dismissed Jamal’s supporters as promoting “leftist dogma” (7/20/97) while admitting that Jamal’s writings on the death penalty should be heard (3/15/97).
(If Kane were less of a coward he’d try to refute the major points of Jamal’s case before the execution he supports takes place.)
Meanwhile, this reader recalls seeing the City Paper (CP) publish just two (admittedly very good) commentaries discussing the merits of Jamal’s case by Eileen Murphy several years ago. The City Paper is well aware that Baltimore is a relatively short bus ride from Philadelphia, and that if they write passionately on the case people could be aroused enough to make that trip for a demonstration. Yet, Murphy’s writings aside, the CP’s lack of concern for the likely execution of a left-wing reporter who may have been innocent, or at any rate could not have been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, speaks volumes about their staff’s commitment to being journalists in a free society. CP is as socially guarded as it is sexy, the better to serve their advertisers.
Local supporters of Mumia Abu- Jamal should act NOW if he is to be saved.
This writer’s suggestion is that it would be much more effective to voice your concerns to the local media rather than spray painting “Free Mumia” on every wall in town. It is the media’s fascist silence regarding this worthwhile case that needs to be torn down for Jamal to be successful with his last set of appeals.