Appeal ruling favoring Abu-Jamal smacks US Supreme Court
Tue, 04/26/2011 - 12:18 washington by: Linn Washington Jr.
The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in a stunning smack at the U.S. Supreme Court, has issued a ruling upholding its call for a new sentencing hearing in the controversial case of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
That ruling issued on Tuesday April 26, 2011 upholds a ruling the Third Circuit issued over two years ago siding with a federal district court judge who had set aside Abu-Jamal's death penalty after determining that death penalty instructions provided to the jury during Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial were unclear.
The U.S. Supreme Court had ordered the Third Circuit to re-examine its rulings eliminating Abu-Jamal's death sentence.
The nation's high court cited it legal precedent in that directive to the Third Circuit, a strange order given the fact that the Supreme Court had consistently declined to apply its precedent to Abu-Jamal's previous appeals despite those appeals containing ample proof that court precedent applied.
The Associated Press was the first to report the Third Circuit's ruling that as of the morning of the ruling's release was not posted on the appeals court's website.
Abu-Jamal's lead attorney, Prof Judith Ritter of the Widener Law School, could not be reached for comment.
The Third Circuit's ruling had required Philadelphia prosecutors to hold a new sentencing hearing if they wanted the death penalty reinstated.
If prosecutors opted against holding new hearing then Abu-Jamal's sentence would be converted to a life sentence which in Pennsylvania means the inmate has no chance of parole spending the remainder of their life behind bars.
Experts contend a new sentencing hearing would be problematic for prosecutors despite the fact that such a hearing could not immediately produce a new trial and the possibility of release for Abu-Jamal.
During such a hearing the defense could present the mounds of new evidence now available that undercut the entirety of the prosecution's original case against Abu-Jamal who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia policeman in December 1981.
Experts expect that prosecutors will appeal the Third Circuit's latest ruling. Prosecutors concede that current and yet unresolved legal issues in this case, attracting unprecedented international scrutiny, will keep it in courts for years.
In early April 2011 the vaulted NAACP Legal Defense Fund publicly announced joining the Abu-Jamal defense team working with Professor Ritter. NAACP lawyers joined Ritter last fall during a hearing where she argued the legal point upheld by the Third Circuit's ruling.
Recently Abu-Jamal recorded yet another birthday (4/24) inside a death row isolation cell. Abu-Jamal and the 222 other Pennsylvania death row inmates spend 23-hours per day everyday isolated inside minimalist cells.
Since 1983 Abu-Jamal's formally languished in the confinement of death row following his controversial July 1982 conviction for murdering Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner.
Abu-Jamal, now 57, has spent nearly thirty-years in prison for a crime he's persistently denied committing a crime that ample evidence conclusively proves did not occur as police and prosecutors have proclaimed.
Authorities, for example, claim Abu-Jamal fired four shots at the policeman as he lay defenseless on a sidewalk but striking him only once with a fatal shot in the face.
However, police crime scene photos and police reports make no reference of any bullet marks in that sidewalk around the fallen officer that should be there if Abu-Jamal fired three shots into the sidewalk as authorities contend.
As detailed in an thorough investigative ballistic test released in September 2010 by This Can't Be Happening, it is impossible to fire hi-velocity bullets into a sidewalk without leaving any marks. TCBH test fired each kind of .38-caliber bullets referenced in police reports about the 1981 crime scene and each of those bullets left easily visible marks marks totally contradicting claims by authorities that Abu-JJamal wildly fired into the sidewalk without leaving bullet marks.
Rulings by federal and state courts denying Abu-Jamal the legal relief granted other inmates raising the same appeals claims are the least examined element of this injustice condemned internationally.
The same Philadelphia and Pennsylvania courts that found major flaws by either defense attorneys, police, prosecutors and/or trial judges in 86 Philadelphia death penalty convictions during a twenty-eight year period after Abu-Jamal's December 1981 arrest declare no errors exist anywhere in the Abu-Jamal case an assertion critics call statistiically improbable.
The federal Third Circuit, for example, declined to grant Abu-Jamal a new trial based on solid legal issues from discrimination by prosecutors in jury selection to documented errors by trial judge Albert Sabo, the late jurist who relished his infamous reputation for pro-prosecution biases.
The Third Circuit's 2008 ruling faulting Sabo for his inability to provide the jury with simple death penalty deliberation instructions included the contradictory conclusion that Sabo adequately provided the jury with instructions about a highly complicated legal issue involving misconduct by the trial prosecutor.
Faulting Sabo for that flawed instruction on prosecutorial misconduct would have required the Third Circuit to give Abu-Jamal lead a new trial. But that court sidestepped its duty to justice deciding to just eliminate Abu-Jamal's death sentence.
Pennsylvania state courts have released three Philadelphians from death row (half of PA's death row exonerations) citing misconduct by police and prosecutors misconduct that was less egregious than thatt documented in the Abu-Jamal case. One of those Philadelphia exonerations involved a man framed by police for a mob-related who was arrested six months before Abu-Jamal.
While many feel Abu-Jamal is guilty as charged, millions around the world question every aspect of this conviction citing facts that proponents of Abu-Jamal's conviction deliberately dismiss as irrelevant.
This reasoned questioning of Abu-Jamal's guilt is the reason why pro-Abu-Jamal activities occurred around the world commemorating Abu-Jamal's 4/24 birthday including people in San Francisco attending a screening of the "Justice on Trial" movie examining ignored aspects in the case, people marching for Abu-Jamal's freedom in the Brixton section of London.
Officials in the French city of Saint-Denis will stage a ceremony rededicating a street they named for Abu-Jamal during the last weekend in April.
The ire erupting over Abu-Jamal's prominence from many advocates of his execution contains contradictions that are as clear as the proverbial black-&-white.
The U.S. Congress engaged in color-coded contradiction while approving a May 2006 resolution condemning far off Saint-Denis for its honoring Abu-Jamal by placing his name on a small one block long street.
Over a decade before that anti-Saint-Denis outrage over 100 members of Congress battled to block the U.S. government's deportation of a white fugitive convicted of killing a British Army officer in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
That officer's killing occurred during an investigation into the murder of a Belfast policeman.
Incidentally, the U.S. Congress did not erupt angrily when the City Council of New York City voted to place the name of that fugitive Joseph Doherty on the street corner outside the federal detentionn center then housing him.
In 1988 six years after Abu-Jamal's conviction -- more than 3,000 Philadelphians signed petitions asking federal authorities to grant Doherty special permission to leave his federal detention cell for one day to allow Doherty to serve as Grand Marshall of Philadelphia's St Patrick's Day Parade.
One Philly supporter of suspected cop killer Doherty was the then President Judge of Philadelphia's trial courts, Edward J. Bradley.
Judge Bradley told a reporter in 1988 that he had no problems as a jurist reconciling his support for a convicted felon because he questioned the "fair treatment" Irish nationals received in English courts.
Judge Bradley's concern about fairness for IRA fighters in English courts is a concern about fairness Philadelphia courts never raise in the case of former Black Panther Party member Abu-Jamal that evidence gross unfairness by Philadelphia and Pennsylvania state court judges.
Critics who castigate contributions to Abu-Jamal's defense fund, especially from Hollywood stars, did not object to one of the white Los Angeles policemen convicted in federal court for the 1991 beating of Rodney King raising (and keeping) nearly $10-million in sales from his book and a fund-raising campaign monies generated mainly after that former police sergeant's imprisonment for a civil rights violation conviction.
One reason why the decades old Abu-Jamal case continues to excite and infuriate is Abu-Jamal himself.
Abu-Jamal is a charismatic figure who is articulate possessing intelligence atypical of the mainly illiterate denizens of death row.
While on death row Abu-Jamal's written six critically acclaimed books (including one on jailhouse lawyers), produced thousands of commentaries, learned two foreign languages, earned two colleges degrees including a Masters and developed a loyal support network comprising millions worldwide.
Even the prosecutor at Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial Joseph MMcGill described him during that trial as the most "intelligent" defendant he'd ever faced.
And another prosecutor, during Abu-Jamal's tainted 1995 appeals hearing, said he didn't think "the shooting of Officer Faulkner is characteristic of this defendant." Abu-Jamal had no record of violence or criminal acts before his 1981 arrest.
Supporters applaud Abu-Jamal's defense of the downtrodden particularly his poignant criticisms of America's prison-industrial complex that incarcerates more people per capita than any other country on earth.
Abu-Jamal's stance highlighting deprivations of the have-nots predated his arrest earning him the title of "Voice of the Voiceless" during his professional broadcast reporting career from 1975 till his December 1981 arrest.
Interestingly, Abu-Jamal rarely uses his world-wide platform to reference his own plight focusing instead on injustices endured by others.
Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in. ~ Leonard Cohen