December 6, 2007 - Issue 256
Evidence of Innocence and an Unfair Trial
Color of Law
By David A. Love
BC Editorial Board
[The following are remarks made at a December 4, 2007 press conference held in Philadelphia by The International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ), and Journalists for Mumia. The purpose of the press conference was to discuss newly discovered crime scene photos in the Mumia Abu-Jamal death penalty case, which were not seen by the jury, yet point to his innocence and the need for a new trial. Abu-Jamal, journalist, former Black Panther and death row inmate, was convicted of the 1981 murder of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Participants in the press conference included Hans Bennett of Journalists for Mumia, Philadelphia journalists Linn Washington, Dave Lindorff, Pam Africa of ICFFMAJ, and David A. Love of Black Commentator. In its October 18, 2007 cover story, titled Photos Bolster Claims of Mumia’s Innocence and Unfair Trial, Black Commentator broke the story regarding the photos.]
My name is David A. Love, editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com, a weekly online magazine covering issues affecting the Black community, with a monthly readership of 300,000. My Color of Law column appears weekly. I wrote an article in the October 18, 2007 edition of the Black Commentator entitled “Photos Bolster Claims of Mumia’s Innocence and Unfair Trial.” The piece re-printed for the Independent Media Center, and the San Francisco Bay View, a national Black newspaper, which published the photos. In the article, I discussed these new photos of the crime scene where Officer Faulkner was killed, but also analyzed the larger implications for the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the problem of racism in the criminal justice system, and the disturbing application of the death penalty in the United States.
To be sure, these photos are important because they suggest that someone, presumably the police, tampered with evidence at the crime scene, removed evidence and switched evidence around, perhaps out of incompetence, perhaps in order to subvert justice and bring about a particular desired outcome. We can only speculate. But we would be misled if we were to believe that these photos are the only evidence pointing to a setup, pointing to Mumia’s innocence and the need for a new trial. The photos, when viewed in combination with the other problems with the case, bolster an already convincing argument that official misconduct took place. For example:
The prosecutor had a history of excluding African American jurors, and struck 10 of 14 Black potential jurors, but only 5 of 25 whites.
In a sworn statement, a court stenographer said she overheard the trial judge, Albert Sabo, saying he would help the prosecution "fry the nigger."
For twelve years, prosecutors withheld evidence that the driver's license of a third man was found in Faulkner's pocket at the crime scene.
Defense witnesses who testified that someone other than Abu-Jamal killed Faulkner were intimidated.
Five of the seven members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which denied his appeal, received campaign contributions from the Fraternal Order of Police, the primary group that has advocated for the execution of Mumia, whom they regard as an unrepentant cop killer.
It should also be noted that in 1981, the year Mumia was arrested, five men were framed by the Philadelphia Police Department for murder and exonerated years later. Two of the innocent men spent as much as 20 years in prison before their release, and one man spent 1,375 days on death row before he became a free man. A legacy of police corruption, brutality and intimidation of poor people, communities of color and political activists haunts the city to this day, at a time when better police-community relations are needed to stem a tide of gun homicides.
The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal sheds light on the racial inequities in the law. Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system is unfair and unequal. An Associated Press investigation in 2000 revealed that Blacks in Pennsylvania are more likely to receive prison sentences, or longer ones, than white defendants accused of the same crimes. Further, the black incarceration rate is 14 times that of whites, the greatest racial disparity in the nation. African Americans, 10 percent of Pennsylvania's population, are 56 percent of the inmates, with most of them coming from the city of Philadelphia.
And we cannot discuss Mumia without looking at the death penalty, given that he is the most well known death row inmate in America and the world, and his case demonstrates all that is wrong with the death penalty, a system that was not meant to be fixed because it was not meant to be fair and just. Executions are a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, whether they take the form of beheading, stoning, gas chamber, electric chair, lethal injection, what have you. Like lynching, the death penalty is barbaric, arbitrary and infected with racism, placing an emphasis on expediency over due process. In fact, capital punishment is lynching brought into the court system, in an effort to legitimize the practice.
It is no accident that 90 percent of executions take place in the South, where Jim Crow lynchings and racial violence were the norm. It should not be surprising that the most important factor that determines whether someone will get the death penalty is the race of the victim. Over the past 30 years, an overwhelming majority of people executed in the United States - more than 80 percent - were convicted of killing a white victim, according to Amnesty International. African-Americans, however, are about half of all murder victims. And one-third of America's death row is black. And according to a study published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies in March 2004, a black person convicted of murdering a white victim is two and a half times as likely to be sentenced to death as a white person convicted of murdering a white victim.
And there are other inherent flaws in capital punishment. Each locality has its own standards, and each prosecutor decides whether to seek death. Only 2 percent of those who are eligible for a death sentence actually receive death. Codefendants may receive different sentences for the same crime, with one receiving death and the other receiving jail time.
Ninety-five percent of death row prisoners cannot afford an attorney and must take a court-appointed attorney, who often is overworked, underpaid, lacks experience in capital cases or, in extreme cases, falls asleep in court.
And since 1973, according to Amnesty International and the Death Penalty Information Center, 124 people in 25 states have been released from death row because they were wrongfully convicted. And we will never know how many innocent people have been sent to their deaths.
Moreover, the death penalty offends international human rights standards. Only six countries carry out 91 percent of the world’s executions: China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the United States. Indeed, you are judged by the company you keep. And we should note that Amnesty International and many others in the international community condemn capital punishment, and have called for a new trial for Mumia, based on the mountain of evidence.
In conclusion, I think of the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” I believe that journalism is at its best when it seeks to get to the bottom of the matter, not regurgitate the official line and shut down the discussion. This is what is necessary for democracy and a free society. As we know in this country, accepting as fact everything that is told to us, and refusing to dig deeper, has cost lives, whether in a senseless war in Iraq or here at home. We are here to discuss the photos that demand a new trial for Mumia. But this is also bigger than Mumia, because Mumia’s case shines the light on official corruption and racism in America’s justice system, and the judicial form of lynching that is the death penalty.
Note: Below Mr. Love’s bio information you will find text taken from the information packet made available to the news media prior to and during the news conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday, December 4, 2007.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a lawyer and prisoners’ rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service and In These Times. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is davidalove.com. Click here to contact Mr. Love.
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
Was Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner really "Murdered
The news conference organized by Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal featured an exclusive slide-show presentation of newly discovered crime scene photos, as well as presentations by local journalists David A. Love and Dave Lindorff, and Pam Africa of The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
INVITATION: This week marks the 26th anniversary of the December 9, 1981 shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner and the arrest of radical journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. December 6 will mark the release of a new book titled "Murdered By Mumia," written by Maureen Faulkner and Michael Smerconish. The Philadelphia Inquirer has already begun a three-part series that features excerpts from "Murdered By Mumia." The media-attention will continue this week with "Murdered By Mumia" scheduled to be featured on such news programs as The Today Show, The O'Reilly Factor, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and many more.
In light of this significant week, the news conference was organized to present "the other side of the story," to the media so that it can be fairly balanced alongside the story presented by Faulkner, Smerconish, and others who argue that Mumia does not deserve a new trial and should be executed. Come and hear from activists and award-winning journalists who have thoroughly researched the case and concluded that Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial was blatantly unfair, and that there is considerable evidence suggesting that Abu-Jamal is innocent, as he has always maintained.
For the national media, and others unable to make it to the news conference, audio and video documentation has been made available via the internet.
CONTACT US: For more information, email: [email protected]
SLIDESHOW PRESENTATION OF NEWLY DISCOVERED CRIME SCENE PHOTOS
Philadelphia journalist Hans Bennett presented a slideshow displaying the crime scene photos recently discovered by German linguist, Michael Schiffmann (University of Heidelberg). Dr. Schiffmann has disclosed his discovery of 26 photographs (never seen by the 1982 jury), taken by press photographer Pedro P. Polakoff, which suggest more evidence that basic investigative protocol was violated by police from the earliest moments of the killing. Schiffmann and Bennett's website, Abu-Jamal-News.com, displays four of the photos to make these key points about the new evidence:
1. Mishandling the Guns - Officer James Forbes holds both Abu-Jamal's and Faulkner's guns, his bare hand touching the metal parts, suggesting perjury when he testified to properly preserving the guns' ballistics evidence.
2. The Moving Hat - Faulkner's hat is moved from the roof of Billy Cook's VW and placed on the sidewalk, where it remained for the official police photo.
3. The Missing Taxi - Robert Chobert testified to parking directly behind Faulkner's car, but the space is empty.
4. The Missing Divots – On the sidewalk, where Faulkner was found, there are no large bullet divots, or destroyed chunks of cement, which should be visible in the pavement if the prosecution scenario was accurate, according to which Abu-Jamal shot down at Faulkner – and allegedly missed several times – while Faulkner was on his back. Dr. Michael Schiffmann writes: "It is thus no question any more whether the scenario presented by the prosecution at Abu-Jamal's trial is true. It is clearly not, because it is physically and ballistically impossible."
DAVID A. LOVE
In October, 2007, Philadelphia-based lawyer and journalist, David A. Love, wrote about the new crime scene photos for The Black Commentator news website. Love's article titled "Photos Bolster Claims of Mumia's Innocence and Unfair Trial" was featured in the national Black newspaper, The SF Bay View, where one of the photos was published for the very first time in the US. Love spoke at the news conference about why the new crime scene photos are an important and worthy story for the media to cover. (see above)
Dave Lindorff is the author of "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Common Courage Press, 2003), an independent examination of this important capital case. In his December 2, 2007 article titled "Maureen Faulkner and Mumia: Vengeance Isn't Sweet," Lindorff responds to the first in a three-part series in The Philadelphia Inquirer, that features experts from Maureen Faulkner's new book, written with Michael Smerconish, titled "Murdered By Mumia." He writes that Faulkner "is entitled to her anger and her grief," but "we are all diminished when justice is so willingly cast aside in the wrongheaded name of vengeance, as has clearly happened in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. No amount of sympathy for Faulkner's widow should be permitted to sway society or the courts from a commitment to justice, and there has been no justice in this case."
At the press-conference, Lindorff addressed the summary of evidence against Abu-Jamal, presented at the "Murdered By Mumia" website, that "Mumia Abu-Jamal was unanimously convicted of the crime by a racially mixed jury based on: the testimony of several eyewitnesses, his ownership of the murder weapon, matching ballistics, and Abu-Jamal's own confession."
--Award-winning investigative reporter Dave Lindorff has been working as a journalist for 34 years. A regular columnist for CounterPunch, he also writes frequently for Extra! and Salon magazine, as well as for Businessweek, The Nation, and Treasury & Risk Magazine. Over the years he has written for such publications as Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Village Voice, Forbes, The London Observer and the Australian National Times.
Pam Africa is the head of The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ). Africa will provide an update on the current media-activist campaign to "ensure fairness" for Abu-Jamal on the December 6 NBC Today Show, which spotlighted the release of the book "Murdered By Mumia." Africa and ICFFMAJ are asking that the The Today Show fairly show both sides of the Abu-Jamal / Faulkner story, and give equal time to an expert sympathetic to Abu-Jamal's case for a new trial.
--Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal (Abu-Jamal-News.com) was co-founded in May, 2007 by Philadelphia journalist Hans Bennett and German linguist Dr. Michael Schiffmann (University of Heidelberg), who is the author of the new German book about Abu-Jamal's case, "Race Against Death." For more information, please email: [email protected]
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